Run Them Pockets, Fool!
In an earlier post, I noted that one common criticsm of allopathic medicine is that there is too much money involved in the system. I think that’s a criticsm that is largely justified, but then proponents of alt-med use that to springboard into singing the praises of all sorts of quackery from therapeutic touch to reflexology to homeopathy, and so on and so forth.
I have contended in discussions that I have had in the past that there’s a good deal of money in alt-med, as well. I mean, I know that alt-med practitioners really care about their patients and would do it out of the goodness of their hearts if they could (unlike those evil western doctors) but they’ve got to eat, too.
That in mind, I went looking for the data. Honestly, I was pretty surprised by what I found.
One of the first studies on the topic that I found was from way back in 1993 that noted about 1/3rd of the US population used CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) and spend approximately 10.3 billion dollars out of pocket on CAM (1). That’s a lot of lettuce.
That same group performed a follow-up study in 1997, which found that use of CAM continued to grow to roughly half of the population using at least one alt-med treatment at a cost of 27 billion out-of-pocket expense (which the study noted exceeded the “projected out-of-pocket expenditures for all US physician services”) (2).
Fast-forward to 2000, when an Australian group took up the topic of CAM. They found roughly the same results as the 1997 Eisenberg study in that roughly half of the population engaged in some use of CAM, but put the cost much higher – 34 billion dollars (which the study noted was “nearly four times the public contribution to all pharmaceuticals) (3). It wasn’t clear to me, however, whether or not that figure included treatments covered by managed care or purely out-of-pocket expenses. Given the increases noted by the Eisenberg studies, it would not surprise me if that was all out of pocket.
While one the subject, a common meme among alt-med proponents is that many of their treatment modalities are being adopted at hospitals and clinics across the United States such as Reiki (faith…I mean energy healing) with the implication being that hospitals would not engage in such activities if they did not help people.
With the amount of money floating around out there in alt-med, the reasons should be fairly self-evident. Marketing wonks at clinics and hospitals see that people will pay for alt-med, and so they start offering it if only to recoup the cash – not that there’s any sound science behind it that justifies it’s use – but in a state of affairs where hospitals are forced to try and make as much money as possible, that is plenty justification.
It should go without saying that the idea of alt-med being so innocuous on the financial front is pure BS. It’s about the guap, so run them pockets, fool!
1. Eisenberg, D.M. et. al. (1993). Unconventional Medicine in the United States — Prevalence, Costs, and Patterns of Use. Journal of the American Medical Association, 328, 246-252.
2. Eisenberg, D.M. et. al. (1998). Trends in Alternative Medicine Use in the United States, 1990-1997: Results of a Follow-up National Survey. Journal of the American Medical Association, 280, 1569-1575.
3. MacLennan, A.H., Wilson, D.H., & Taylor, A.W. (2002). The Escalating Cost and Prevalance of Alternative Medicine. Preventative Medicine, 35, 166-173.