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Americans Spent $34 Billion on Alternative Medicine

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in conjunction with the National Center for Health Statistics released a report today indicating that Americans spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in 2007. CAM comprises a diverse set of healing philosophies, therapies and products.

This spending equates to 1.5% of total health care expenditures in the U.S. and to 11.2% of out-of-pocket health care expenditures.

The report looked at the costs of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and frequency of visits to CAM practitioners in 2007. Compared to data from ten years ago, the use of self-care therapies has increased whereas the use of CAM health care professionals has decreased.

The purpose of the survey was to find out which areas of CAM warrant research by the National Institutes of Health.

Data from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey was used to compile the statistics. The strength of the report is based on data collected from 23,393 completed interviews with adults 18 years or older.

Total Out-of-Pocket CAM Spending: $33.9 Billion

The U.S. public has shown substantial interest and use of CAM. In 2007, an estimated 38.3% of adults (83 million persons) and 11.8% of children (8.5 million children under 18 years) used CAM. In 1997, total out-of-pocket expenditures for CAM were estimated at $27.0 billion. The current level of spending represents a 25.5% increase over 10 years.

Of the $33.9 billion, nearly two-thirds or $22.0 billion was spent on self-care purchases of CAM products, classes and materials. The remaining one-third or $11.9 billion was spent on practitioner visits.

Self-Care Purchases of CAM Products, Classes & Materials: $22.0 Billion

More than two-thirds of self-care purchases or $14.8 billion was spent on nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products. These purchases include botanical supplements like fish oil, glucosamine, and echinacea. Most adults who purchased these products spent less than $30.00 per purchase.

In comparison, Americans spent an estimated $47.6 billion out-of-pocket to buy pharmaceutical drugs in 2007.

Of the remaining $7.2 billion, $4.1 billion was spent on yoga, tai chi, and qigong classes; $2.9 billion on homeopathic medicine; and 0.2 billion on relaxation techniques (e.g., biofeedback, hypnosis).

Practitioner Visits: $11.9 Billion

The almost $12 billion spent on CAM practitioners, represented 38.1 million adults that made an estimated 354.2 million visits. More than three-quarters of this spending was associated with manipulative and body-based therapies (e.g., chiropractic, massage, osteopathic manipulation).

Compared with data from 1997, visits to practitioners of energy healing therapies and relaxation techniques declined. However, visits to acupuncturists increased by three times (from 27 visits per 1,000 adults in 1997 to 79 visits per 1,000 adults in 2007). Many people are familiar with and comfortable with acupuncture. Awareness along with increased coverage by health insurance providers, may have contributed to growth of this CAM specialty.

On average, adults spent $121.92 per person for visits to CAM providers and paid $29.37 out-of-pocket per visit. Higher costs were associated with visits to naturopaths; lowest costs were associated with visits to chiropractors and osteopathic physicians.

The Bottom Line

Americans not only spend a lot of money on CAM medical practices and products, but this is increasing. Importantly, these out-of-pocket expenses are not covered by health insurance.

What does this mean? The main reason that people turn to CAM is to provide relief of chronic problems that tend to not be solved by conventional medicine. Pain relief is a motivating factor for many who seek CAM based therapies and products.

Americans also turn to CAM for health and well-being. The difference between CAM and conventional medicine is that CAM based products and therapies are the least invasive and seek to address symptoms. For example, if you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, your doctor might prescribe a statin drug. While effective in lowering cholesterol, neither the doctor nor the drug address the issue as to why you have high cholesterol in the first place.

A key takeaway from this report is that patients have health, wellness and medical needs that the conventional medical system is not paying attention to. Providers and health care plans that address these unmet needs will not only serve the public but will help to keep the long-term cost of health care down.

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