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Consumers Spent $33.9 Billion on Alternative Treatments in One Year

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 5, 2009

Consumers spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on yoga, chelation therapy, herbal supplements, meditation, naturopathy, manipulation techniques, massage, hypnosis, and many other alternative therapies for the purpose of improving health during 2007, according to a new federal report.

The study, based on a national household survey, is the first such report in 10 years and the first done with interviews conducted on the topic within sampled households as opposed to by telephone.

The new survey found that consumers spend about as much on such products and services as they do in their out-of-pocket costs for conventional physician services and prescription drugs.

The report defined alternative complementary and alternative medicine as therapies not usually taught in U.S medical schools and which are not generally available in U.S. hospitals. "CAM therapies include a broad range of practices and beliefs...not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine."

One significant difference between the most recent survey and the one from the 1990s is in an apparent drop by about 50% in spending for providers, which the 1997 survey said accounted for the majority of consumers' alternative remedy spending. This report found that instead, two-thirds of consumers' alternative spending went to products.

In 2007, about two-thirds of this spending went to self-care purchases of products, classes, and materials, while the remaining one-third paid for practitioner visits. About 38.1 million adults made an estimated 354.2 million visits to practitioners of CAM.

The report, Costs of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Frequency of Visits to CAM Practitioners, United States, 2007, was published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to focus more attention on research to determine if such unconventional and largely unproven methods do any good.

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