ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: HMOs Offer Limited Coverage
In coverage of yesterday's Journal of the American Medical Association issue on the rising popularity of alternative medicine (see CHL 11/11), USA Today reported that some managed care plans are taking steps -- to various degrees -- to satisfy their enrollees' desire for non- standard regimens. Aetna U.S. Healthcare, although it does not cover alternative medicine benefits, offers discounts to members for chiropractic, acupuncture, nutritional counseling, vitamins, herbal supplement and related literature. Regence Blue Shield of Washington state "offers members the option of picking a naturopath as their primary care physician." Approximately 1% of 358,000 eligible members have done so (Rubin/Hellmich, 11/11). The lead JAMA article, by Dr. David Eisenberg of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education, found that most people who utilize alternative medicine pay out of pocket, and that insurance coverage has remained relatively flat between 1991 and 1997 (Rubin, 11/11).
In this week's JAMA, Drs. Robert Sikorski and Richard Peters of Boston-based Medsite Communications Corp. profile websites that "are seeking to apply scientific principles to the analysis of alternative medical approaches":
- The University of Texas Center for Alternative Medicine Research: www.sph.uth.tmc.edu/utcam/default.htm.
- Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: www-camra.ucdavis.edu (maintained by UC-Davis).
- Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases: www.ars-grin.gov/duke (maintained by the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine).
- National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine: http://altmed.od.nih.gov.
- Quackwatch: www.quackwatch.com.
- FDA Guide To Choosing Medical Treatments: www.fda.gov//oashi/aids/fdaguide.html.
- Fact Sheets on Alternative Medicine: http://cpmcnet.columbia.edu/dept/rosenthal/factsheets.html (maintained by the Columbia University Medical Center) (11/11 issue).
According to a survey by PCS Health Systems, only 35% of residents in Phoenix, AZ, understand that combining herbal remedies with certain prescription medications can be hazardous, and only 56% are aware of potentially dangerous interactions between prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. PCS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marsha Moore said, "The truth is that many common nonprescription therapies can have serious effects when taken with certain prescription medications." The survey found that 40% of the 402 metro Phoenix residents surveyed take herbal remedies at least occasionally, but only 22% have discussed possible interactions with their physician (PCS release, 11/11). Click here for previous CHL coverage of health plans and alternative medicine.