ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: Booms As Acceptance Grows
The alternative medicine industry is exploding -- some observers estimate that it is "a $3 billion business" -- and today's Miami Herald examines the "intense decade-long interest in alternative medicines." One study shows that more than "four of every 10 adults said they have used some type of unconventional medical therapy during the past year" -- treatments like taking echinacea to boost the immune system, undergoing biofeedback to reduce pre-surgery stress and seeking acupuncture treatment for migraines. "Patients today are dissatisfied with the current level of care they are receiving," said Harvey Grossbard, a Florida acupuncturist. "Many patients are also experiencing a lot of adverse effects from many of the drugs they are taking and are looking for something more effective, or as effective, and with less risk."
A Boom Business
Alternative care clinics are sprouting up all over the country, and the Herald reports that "about 50 of the nation's 125 medical schools offer elective, for-credit courses on alternative therapies." With more and more patients demanding alternative therapies, "mainstream medical doctors are taking note." The American Medical Association urges its members to "become familiar with unconventional therapies and be able to advise patients about those treatments." The AMA emphasizes the need for further research into alternative medicine and continued education about the advantages and hazards of unconventional care.
Coverage For Alternative Care
An accompanying article reports that nearly 50 HMOs cover alternative therapies. Last year, Norwalk, CT-based Oxford Health Plans "became the first major HMO to offer an alternative medicine program through its network." San Diego-based American Specialty Health Plans started offering a chiropractic-only plan to the state's large HMOs and self-insured companies four years ago. Last year, in response to growing demand for alternative treatments, the HMO added benefits for acupuncture and Chinese herbal supplements. The Herald reports that "[s]ome HMOs don't pay for certain forms of alternative medical care outright. Instead, the insurer negotiates discounts with certain alternative providers and gives the list to HMO patients willing to pay for those services on their own." That approach means HMOs "are not taking the risk," said Lee Launer of the New York consulting firm Coopers & Lybrand. "They are offering access. The subtle message is that if something negative happens, it would reduce law suits" (Chandler, 6/8)