Complementary and Alternative Medicine Spending Now $34 Billion

With healthcare being so much in the news of late, a just released government report offers a distinctive picture of spending on complementary or alternative medicine (CAM).

A survey, completed in 2007, estimates that Americans spend $34 billion each year on either natural products or alternative treatments. Experts estimate this amount is about 11% of our total out-of-pocket spend on health care.

Spending on complementary and alternative medicines accounted for 1.5% of the total $2.2 trillion spent in the United States on health care.

No doubt you’ve heard about complementary and alternative medicines, or perhaps investigated them for yourself. The term covers a diverse group of therapies, and is often seeb as the last hope for a variety of conditions where conventional treatments fail, fall short or are not available.

Any treatment not generally considered part of western medicine, like herbal supplements, meditation, chiropractic, energy work and acupuncture all fall into the category of either complementary or alternative medicine.

These spending figures are based on replies to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) conducted back in 2007 by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

The CAM section in the survey was developed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) along with the NCHS.

The data collected was intended to give estimates of the costs of alternative therapies, the frequency of visits and how often people are buying complementary or alternative self-care therapies.

The report, released July 30, 2009, offers some compelling insights on American’s spending habits:

- In 2007, 38% of adults (about 4 in 10) and 12% of children under the age of 18 (about 1 in 9) had used some type of alternative medicine during the year.

- In 2007, conditions involving chronic pain (back, neck or joint) occupied nine of the top twenty conditions where alternative therapies might be used.

- In 2007, estimates show 354 million visits being made to CAM practitioners, such as acupuncturists, chiropractors and massage therapists at an estimated cost of almost $12 billion. Visits to acupuncturists increased over 1997 rates to 79 visits per 1,000 adults.

- In 2007, $22.0 billion was spent on treatments that did not involve a practitioner, including over-the-counter, self care herbal and other therapies (fish oil/omega 3, glucosamine, echinacea, flaxseed), classes or materials.

- In 2007, adults in the United States spent $121.92 per person for visits to CAM practitioners, and paid $29.37 out of pocket per visit. For most types of CAM therapies most adults spent less than $50 per visit, though at least 20% spend $75 a visit.

- In 2007, the largest single expenditure was in non-vitamin, non-mineral herbal supplements and other products (almost $15 billion) followed by practitioner visits ($12 billion), stretching and meditation-related classes like yoga, tai chi and qigong ($4 billion), homeopathic medicines ($2.9 billion) and relaxation techniques ($0.2 billion).

“With so many Americans using and spending money on CAM therapies, it is extremely important to know whether the products and practices they use are safe and effective,” points out Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., Director of NCCAM.

“This underscores the importance of conducting rigorous research and providing evidence-based information on CAM so that health care providers and the public can make well-informed decisions.”

Both conventional and CAM Practitioners stress that the two

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