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Health & Balance

Americans Spend $34 Billion on Alternative Medicine

11% of Out-of-Pocket Health Care Spending Goes to CAM
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WebMD Health News

July 30, 2009 -- Americans spend almost a third as much money out-of pocket on herbal supplements and other alternative medicines as they do on prescription drugs, a new government report shows.

Out-of-pocket spending on herbal supplements, chiropractic visits, meditation, and other forms of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) was estimated at $34 billion in a single year.

The estimate was based on responses to a national health survey conducted in 2007 by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

“The bottom line is that Americans spend a lot of money on CAM products, classes, materials and practitioner visits,” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Director Josephine P. Briggs, MD, said in a media briefing today. “We estimate that this (represents) approximately 11% of the total out-of-pocket spending on health care.”

1.5% of Total Medical Costs Involve CAM

Overall out-of-pocket expenditures for complementary and alternative medicines accounted for 1.5% of the $2.2 trillion spent on health care during the year prior to the survey.

Other highlights from the report, released today by NCHS and NCAAM, include:

  • In 2007, 38 million adults made an estimated 354 million visits to CAM practitioners, at an estimated cost of almost $12 billion dollars.
  • Two-thirds of the out-of-pocket spending was for treatments that did not involve a practitioner, such as over-the-counter herbal therapies and other therapies, classes and materials. About $12 billion was spent on visits to practitioners such as chiropractors, acupuncturists, and homeopathic specialists.
  • The biggest single expenditure was for non-vitamin, non-mineral herbal supplements and other products (almost $15 billion) followed by practitioner visits ($12 billion), stretching and meditation-related classes such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong ($4 billion), homeopathic medicines ($2.9 billion) and relaxation techniques ($0.2 billion).

Previously reported figures based on the same national survey showed that 38% of adults and 12% of children under the age of 18 used some type of alternative medicine in 2007.

Acupuncture In, Energy Healing Out

It has been a decade since a nationally representative survey examining expenditures for CAM treatments has been done, but the newly published survey was so different from the old one that researchers were hesitant to compare them.

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