Amid concerns about the rising cost of healthcare, a new study suggests the American public spent $33.9 billion of their health-dollars on unproven treatments in 2007.
Research by the US National Center for Health Statistics shows this was the cost of out-of-pocket spending on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in that year. Nearly 40% of adults in the 29,266 households surveyed used some form of CAM (report pdf).
Although a relatively trifling amount when set against the $2.2 trillion spent overall on healthcare, $33.9 billion represents 11.2% of ‘out-of-pocket expenditures’, ie money not claimable from health insurers. The $11.9bn spent on visits to CAM practitioners represents 25% of out-of-pocket spending on physician visits.
“While these expenditures represent just a small fraction of total health care spending in the United States, they constitute a substantial part of out-of-pocket health care costs,” says Richard Nahin, an acting director at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and lead author of the analysis (press release).
The last similar survey was conducted in 1997 and found that $27.0 billion was spent on CAM (prompting the Washington Post to say, “The amount of money that Americans are shelling out for herbal supplements, meditation, acupuncture and other forms of “alternative” medical care is continuing to skyrocket”).
However the number of visits to CAM practitioners has actually fallen by about 50% since 1997, dropping to 1,592 visits per 1,000 adults in 2007. The LA Times takes this tack, saying, “Use of alternative health practitioners falls”.
“We are talking about a very wide range of health practices that range from promising and sensible to potentially harmful,” says Josephine Briggs, director of NCCAR (AP).
We’re also talking about spending billions of dollars on treatments that haven’t been shown to work, a fact curiously missing from some of the coverage of this report.