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Resuscitating Medicare

Medicare is now accepting for reimbursement the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease and the Pritikin Program, which, on a personal note, is what inspired me to go into medicine.

October 11, 2011 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Images thanks to the White House Photograph Office, the Congressional Budget Office, National Institutes of Health, farcaster via Wikimedia Commons, and Simone van den Berg


Medicare  is in trouble. Where oh where could we possibly save some money. Well,  according to American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease alone costs us a half trillion dollars a year, so  no wonder, in one of the most exciting new developments in lifestyle medicine, last year Medicare officially approved for reimbursement the Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease and the Pritikin Program. Now,  hospitals can now get paid for reversing heart disease instead of just  queuing people up for their next bypass operation after their last graft got clogged up too.

Now  most people have heard of Dean Ornish, but  may not be aware of Nathan Pritikin, the original lifestyle medicine pioneer who started reversing heart disease with diet back in the 1970s. In fact,  on a personal note, Pritikin is the reason this little freckled fellow went to medical school.

I think the spark for many kids to want to become-a-doctor-when-they-grow-up is watching a grandparent get sick, or even die. But for me, it was my grandma getting better.  This is my gramma at her grandson's wedding 15 years after doctors had abandoned her to die. She had already had a couple bypass operations, and they ran out of arteries. There was nothing more she could do. Wheelchair bound, crushing chest pain and then she heard about Pritikin. If anyone needed heart disease reversal it was her. Pritikin's like a live-in program you stay for a few weeks, they put you on a plant-based diet, teach you cook, etc. They wheeled her in, and she walked out. I’ll never forget that. And for a kid you know that’s all that matters, you get to play with gramma again. She was given her medical death sentence she was 65, and thanks to a healthy diet she was able to enjoy another 28 years on this earth with her six grandkids, including me.

 She's even mentioned in the official Pritikin biography “The  man who healed America’s heart.” These were the death's door people," said an early administrator,  like, Frances Greger arrived in a wheelchair. Mrs. Greger had heart disease, angina, and claudication; her condition was so bad she could no longer walk without great pain in her chest and legs. Within three weeks, she was not only out of her wheelchair but was waling ten miles a day.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out the other videos on heart health and plant-based diets. Also, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Heart Disease: there is a Cure, Multivitamins and MortalityEating To Extend Our Lifespan, and  Cancer-Proofing Your Body.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out the other videos on heart health and plant-based diets. Also, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!

  • Karen LaVine

    Way cool news! And thanks for sharing further details about hour grandmother’s dramatic recovery. She would be so proud of what you’re accomplishing with this web site.

  • editor d

    It’s sad that money and not the well being of citizens, is the reason the Ornish and Pritikin programs are getting some recognition by the government. However, the more this happens the better. Eventually, nutrition could be something truly backed by government and the people. Well… maybe.

    Your grandmother’s story is one of the reason’s I went vegan. It’s truly inspiring. If I could just get my parents to understand.

  • Nina Greif

    Thank you for sharing the good news!
    Are these programs hospital based or clinic based?

  • Spiral

    Fantastic video. Inspiring story. I look forward to these videos every day.

  • Mike Quinoa

    Love this story. I can see how what happened to your grandmother would be so inspiring—chokes me up just watching it. Dr. Greger, you are doing a fanatstic job carrying the Pritikin torch in the 21st century.

  • StrayKat

    Great news for preventive medicine!

    Thanks for sharing your grandmother’s story. My own grandmother lived 20 years past her expiration date, and it can indeed be very inspiring.

  • estar

    What a wonderful story! I remember Pritikin, my mother had some of his books.

  • Eric Needs

    even back then Greger was looking fly in his Lacoste shirt.

  • kirney

    Such a great, encouraging story! Thanks for sharing it with us, Dr.Greger!

  • HemoDynamic

    Your Grandmother is the reason that you went to Medical School, well, YOU are the reason I stay in Medicine. If it weren’t for you and John McDougall, MD, I would have been swallowed up by pharmaceutical medicine and digested like a piece of meat.
    Have fun this weekend at the Flamingo resort. Don’t let Fuhrman and McDougall trade fists, although, it would see more DVD’s

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Thank you for your kind note. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help keep you in the field–we need good folks in medicine!

  • HemoDynamic

    Thanks for the reply. I appreciate your helping offer but unfortunately I do not think there are any non-profit physician jobs available that beleive in practicing diet based medicine, because to them it’s all about the Benjamin’s ($$$). I am 46 and a new MD practicing in Family Medicine in California. I have $350,000 in medical school debt and I am paying $3500/mo on those loans for the next 16 years to pay them off. If I work in a nonprofit practice I can qualify for federal and state loan reimbursement here in CA. Problem is I am working private practice so I do not qualify for federal or state reimbursement and they want me to pay $40,000 to join their group. Also they don’t like my diet based approach for a few reasons. One, because my patients get better ALL the time and don’t come back as often; two, I don’t order as many Xrays and DEXA scans that we have in the office so that decreases revenue; and three, I can only see about 20 patients per day (because I teach my patients) and they want me to see 25-30. There is even more to this story that increases my disappointment. Anyway, I will be working for Dr. McDougall in March for a week with patients and he may have suggestions as well. If you have any suggestions such as should I become a solo practice with less overhead–ours is 55%–this would allow me to see fewer patients and practice the way I want (and my Patients want my style of care–98% of my patients are willing to change their diet if it means they can get off their meds!) or join some other practice that employs physicians like my self (I don’t know of any). It seems as the physicians that are doing the plant/starch lifestyle change have all written books and/or worked at prestigious institutions and all I have is a true passion and love for this style of medicine. And I’ll tell you if this style of medicine didn’t create amazing changes in people I wouldn’t be doing it, but it is the ONLY style of medicine that brings about true and permanent positve change in people. Personally I have patients who have reversed their Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohns Dz (great case of a 9 y/o boy now vegan playing soccer competitively), Ulcerative Colitis, Lupus, Unstable angina, Hypertension, Elevated cholesterol, Diabetes, and the list goes on. Why wouldn’t I practice this way. Diet is nothing short of miraculous when compared to the standard medicine treatment for chronic disease. Well, thanks for lending an ear and if you have any suggestions let me know. Regards, Hemo

    • Joe

      Great work Hemo. Keep it up. You are clearly a very compassionate person helping a lot of people.

      I hope you beat the system and go on to even bigger successes.

    • Lawrence

      Thank you Hemo.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Heart Disease: there is a Cure!

  • pablom

    But Pritikin diet is using lean meat, no?

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      Yes they do use meat and seafood. ;(
      Pritikin would turn over in his grave if he saw how they have destroyed the original principles of his lifestyle change.

  • Joe

    I really like this story – and I love the fact that your Gran had the desire to change at a time when diet and lifestyle changes were probably thought of as insane.

    She must have had a very strong character – so I’ve got her to thank for your great videos then!

  • Ilana

    This is a great example of the government taking active steps that can help everyone’s health with actions that private industry would never ever do. Way to go!

  • Sebastian Tristan

    Beautiful. =)

  • Skeptic

    Very inspirational story. To think, anyone of us informed lay people may save the life of family or loved ones or friends just by passing this simple information on, and referring them to this or similar sites and books. Good bye health care “crisis.”

  • Jessica Madden

    That’s a pretty amazing story! I wish I had a story like this so I could convince people on how important it is to is to eat plant based. But unfortunately I’m just a 28 year old female and as far as I know nothing is wrong with me, I want to eat healthy to prevent any future illness as well as I look at what my parents have had eg arthritis, diabeties, prostate cancer and high blood pressure and I want to avoid that and live long and healthy for my own family one day!

    • Thea

      Jessica: You will have that amazing story when you are a healthy and spry 103 year old out-walking the 50 year olds. Good for you for being a role model now instead of waiting until something goes wrong.