U.S. residents in 2012 spent about $30.2 billion on complementary approaches to health care, according to a federal study released last week.
"Complementary" approaches include products such as herbal supplements and services such as chiropractor visits, meditation, and yoga.
For the study, CDC and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health researchers analyzed 2012 data on nearly 45,000 U.S. residents ages four and older to estimate nationwide spending on complementary health care approaches.
The researchers estimated that about 20 percent of Americans paid for at least one complementary health care approach in 2012. Spending on such approaches accounted for 9.2 percent of U.S. residents' total out-of-pocket health care spending that year and 1.1 percent of health care spending in 2012 overall.
According to the researchers, U.S. residents in 2012 spent:
- $14.7 billion out-of-pocket on visits to complementary practitioners—such as acupuncturists, chiropractors, and massage therapists—which was about 30 percent of consumers' out-of-pocket spending on conventional physician services that year;
- $12.8 billion on natural product supplements, which was about 25 percent of consumers' out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs; and
- $2.7 billion on self-care approaches, such as self-help books or audio recordings.
On average, U.S. residents spent $433 on practitioner visits, $368 on natural product supplements, and $257 on self-care approaches.
Out-of-pocket spending on complementary health approaches increased with household income. Spending was about $435 per U.S. resident with an annual household income under $25,000, compared with $590 per U.S. resident whose annual household income was at least $100,000.
"People are fed up with the type of care they get from primary physicians that is covered by insurance," says Daniel Fabricant, executive director and CEO of the National Products Association. "Across the board, people are looking for ways to stay healthy on their own." He added that physicians on average spend about seven minutes per visit with patients, noting, "It's very difficult to get interested in someone's health and wellness during a seven-minute period."
However, Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, cautioned that the alternative health care industry is lightly regulated.
According to NIH, nutrition supplement manufacturers are permitted to market the products without first receiving FDA approval. While supplement companies must have evidence to support any health-related claims included on the products' labels, manufacturers are not required to submit that evidence to FDA before the products are sold.
"You are putting a lot of faith in something you shouldn't have much faith in," says Offit. "They don't have to test for safety and usefulness as long as they don't make a serious medical claim" (Gooch, Becker's Hospital CFO, 6/22; Shedrofsky, USA Today, 6/22; Lagasse, Healthcare Finance News, 6/22).
Understand the employee wellness spectrum
Programs aimed at promoting healthy habits among employees are likely to lead to improved employee engagement and productivity—but they're unlikely to reduce the total cost of care. To do that, you'll need to take a population health approach.