►With $2.6 trillion in healthcare costs, the US has the highest in the world.2

►Americans are some of the unhealthiest and most obese in the world.3

►38% of Americans are now using Complementary and Alternative Health.1

►Regular use of CAM therapy can improve your health and lower your healthcare costs!!5,6

As the economy around the world continues to stagnate, and healthcare reform in the United States battles onward, everyone is worrying about healthcare costs. Some are saying healthcare reform will hurt costs, others say it will help; the only thing for certain is the US health system needs to change. Despite the fact that the US spends the most money on healthcare we are still some of the unhealthiest people in the world. Overall, the 2000 World Report by the WHO ranked the US healthcare system as #37 in the world. A large part of the problem is the fact that because healthcare in the US is expensive many people can’t afford the care they need. As more and more Americans become disenfranchised and can’t afford US healthcare they begin to use Complementary and Alternative Medicine(CAM). Now, studies are being done showing that these people who use CAM medicine such as acupuncture, massage, herbs and supplements are making a smart financial decision. It turns out these people tend to have lower healthcare costs.

A recent study done in Washington state where 90% of people use CAM therapies showed “that CAM users with low back pain, fibromyalgia, or menopausal symptoms had lower average expenditures compared to non-CAM users ($3,797 vs $4,153, P=0.0001). The most impressive difference in expenditures was seen in patients with the highest disease burden, wherein patients with the poorest health cost an average of $1,420 less annually if they were CAM users compared to those who were under the care of conventional providers exclusively (P<0.0001).” This means not only do people save money when they use CAM therapies for mild things such as colds, flus, minor aches and pains, digestive conditions, but they actually save even more money when they use CAM therapies for serious chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. In many more studies done throughout the United States and the world various Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM) techniques have been shown to be cost-saving. “Some examples of cost savings were seen for acupuncture in reducing breech presentation in the Netherlands, acupuncture for low back in the United Kingdom, manual therapy for neck pain, vitamin K for preventing osteoporotic fractures, and adjunctive use of antioxidants for preventing cataract formation.” Another study reviewing 12,036 treatments for back pain showed patients using CAM therapies saved an average of $796 on their total annual medical health care costs. Most importantly, however, this study also found “CAM users did not add to the overall medical spending in a nationally representative sample with neck and back problems.” Considering, back problems are the number one reason for workman’s compensation claims and the number one reason for missing work this is a huge finding. It essentially means people using CAM to treat their back pain did not have to seek professional medical help from places such as the emergency room. Right now some of the biggest healthcare costs in this country are due to people not being able to pay their medical bills due to either a lack of insurance or the bills being too expensive. In this study these people consistently paid their bills, paid a lower bill and did not add to the growing problem of government funded health costs.

Right now everyone is trying to figure out how to save money on healthcare and now studies show we can save money on healthcare by covering CAM therapies. Seems like we have a win-win situation here, and yet this is never mentioned in the healthcare debate and insurance companies continue to not cover it. Why? Unfortunately, we are fighting against a very entrenched status quo here. Not only are there thousands of doctors who have been trained to practice medicine in a certain fashion, and have been doing so for decades, but the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry has a vested interest in selling their type of medicine and not an alternative one. Furthermore, insurance companies and the medical industry is generally a for profit industry and less money is made in covering healthy individuals using good supplements and successful CAM treatments. To be fair, insurance companies have become much better at covering CAM treatment, however it is still nowhere near where it should be compared to the prevalence of CAM usage in the United States. Another reason often cited for the lack of coverage of CAM, is the lack of evidence to support the efficacy of CAM therapies. However, we have now created a “self fulfilling prophecy.” First, we say there is not enough research to support CAM treatment, then we don’t give the money needed to support CAM, therefore there is not enough money to do more research on CAM treatments. This circle goes on and on where the majority of the money spent on medical research is spent by pharmaceutical companies on proving the efficacy of their treatments, and not by institutions studying techniques and modalities of care that have existed for millennia before modern pharmaceuticals even existed. However, there still is hope, in that despite this huge discrepancy in research spending, more and more high quality studies are being published on CAM. The only problem now is that doctors and insurance companies are not choosing to look at the new data that supports CAM and simply sticking to their status quo of treatment options.

So, what needs to be done to change this? Truly, the only thing that will make a difference is you. If each person who wants to use CAM talks to their insurance company, and talks to their medical practitioners then slowly the culture around medicine will change. The proof is that in several states certain CAM treatments are mandated by the state government to be included in healthcare coverage. For example, acupuncture coverage is mandated in California, Florida, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Massage therapist coverage is mandated in Maryland, New Hampshire, Utah and Washington. Naturopath coverage is mandated in Alaska, Montana, Vermont and Washington. As everyone knows, dealing with politics and insurance companies is about as fun as a trip to the DMV, however, in the end it not only could save you a significant amount of money, but more importantly it can improve your health and quality of life. So, please exercise your political voice by speaking to your legislators and voting for CAM treatments. Vote with your dollars and continue to support CAM. While you’re paying for your supplements, or your acupuncture treatment, it may seem like you’re spending more money than when you pay a $20 copay, but annually it will actually save you money by having to see the doctor less and not having to pay for more serious and expensive procedures. Most importantly though, talk with your insurance company or human resource department to get CAM included in your insurance coverage so you can just pay a $20 copay. For while most of these treatments are based on ancient wisdom, only modern science, continued activism and future budgeting will allow them to flourish.

  1. Barnes, Patricia MA, et. al. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007 National Health Statistics Report. Dec. 10, 2008
  2. Beamesderfer, Adara and Usha Ranji. US Healthcare Costs Kaiser Health news http://www.kaiseredu.org/issue-modules/us-health-care-costs/background-brief.aspx. Feb, 2012
  3. Knox, Richard. S. Ranks Below 16 Other Rich Countries In Health Report http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/01/09/168976602/u-s-ranks-below-16-other-rich-countries-in-health-report. January 09, 2013
  4. Musgrove, Philip et al. The World Health Report 2000: health systems: improving health World Health Organization, 2000
  5. Martin BI, et. al. The association of complementary and alternative medicine use and health care expenditures for back and neck problems Med Care. Dec 2012;50(12):1029-36
  1. Tais, Setareh ND and Erica Oberg, ND MPH. The Economic Evaluation of Complementary and Alternative Health, The growing importance of including naturopathic doctors in healthcare reform Natural Medicine Journal. Feb 06, 2013.               

 

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