Your Right To Choose Alternative Medicine

What Is Alternative Medicine?


Alternative medicine refers to any healing practice “that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine.”  Exactly what is considered alternative changes constantly as more treatments are proven effective and move into the mainstream. When an alternative therapy is used in addition to conventional therapy, it’s called complementary, or known as CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). The combination of conventional medicine and alternative medicine is often referred to as integrative medicine. Alternative therapies may include naturopathy, chiropractic, herbalism, traditional chinese medicine, ayurveda, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, homeopathy, acupuncture, and nutritional therapies.


An alternative practitioner often works in partnership with the patient, empowering them to take more responsibility for their health choices. Alternative medicine treatments are often more cost-effective than conventional drugs or surgery. For example, meditation, or yoga are free! Another benefit of alternative therapies is that they are less likely to harm patients than using pharmaceutical medications that may have negative side effects.  Studies have shown that patients use CAM most frequently for musculoskeletal problems such as back, neck, or joint pain, but all health issues can benefit from alternative therapies.


CAM is Recognized in Health Care Reform Bill


The health care reform bill signed into law March 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, includes several provisions that address complementary and alternative medicine. These include Section 2706, which prohibits discrimination against any health care provider licensed in a state, more specifically: “A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health care provider who is acting within the scope of that provider’s license or certification under applicable State law.” In addition, Section 3502 creates “community health teams,” defined to include, among others, “licensed complementary and alternative medicine practitioners.” From AHPA(American Herbal Products Association)


National Health Interview Survey – 2007 Statistics


According to the data from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), 38 percent of adults (about 4 in 10) and 12 percent of children (about 1 in 9) are using some form of CAM for health services. Americans spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on CAM in 2007. 65 percent was for “self-care” in the form of natural products and supplements, and various exercise and fitness classes (approximately one-third of out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs). The other 35 percent was spent for services by CAM practitioners (approximately one-quarter of total out-of-pocket spending on physician visits).


Herbal Medicine as Your Choice in Alternative Medicine


Recently, the World Health Organization estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some part of their primary health care. In the last 20 years in the United States, public dissatisfaction with the cost of prescription medications, along with an interest in returning to more natural remedies, has led to an increase in herbal medicine use. Medicines, both herbal and pharmaceutical, are big business. It has been estimated that Americans spend $200 billion per year on prescription drugs and $20 billion on herbs and other dietary supplements. This figure (provided by the AHPA – American Herbal Products Association) does not include what is spent on herbal Cannabis! While the amount spent by medical Cannabis patients for their medicine is difficult to measure, it clearly is an alternative medicine of significance. To put this in perspective, consider the following figures – In California, where Cannabis is the largest cash producing crop, more than $14 billion dollars is generated per year. The annual supply of 14,349 metric tons of marijuana available in the United States was estimated to be worth $112.9 billion (Drug, 2007}. Consumers are making their health care choices clear by paying out-of-pocket for their choice of alternative medicine.