I’ve pointed out before that despite the David and Goliath myth CAM proponents often market, that CAM is big business. A study in July, 2009 from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) reaffirms this. With all the usual caveats about the reliability of such surveys, the results found that adults in the United States spent $33.9 billion out of pocket on “alternative” medicine, exclusive of any insurance coverage or reimbursement for such treatment. Now, the NCCAM has some loose definitions of CAM, and it includes massage, yoga, and some other practices and products which may be considered CAM if they are provided or used with the intent to treat or prevent disease, but which may also be used for perfectly legitimate, non-medical reasons. Still, the numbers suggest there is a good deal of money to be made selling products and services that do not have a sound scientific basis, and this represents a real threat to the well-being of Americans.
The $33.9 billion represents about 11% of out-of-pocket health care expenditures, and the lion’s share of this (43.7% or $15.4 billion) went to non-vitamin/non-mineral herbs and supplements. That still left a respectable $3.9 billion for chiropractors and osteopaths and $2.9 billion for homeopathic remedies. Another, and scary way of looking at this, is that out-of-pocket expenditures on supplements and herbs was about 30% of that spent on prescription medications, and expenditures on CAM providers was about 25% of what was spent to see physicians. Granted, it is likely that the bulk of the overall $2.2 trillion spent on health care, which is insurance-reimbursed, is spent on scientific medical care, but it is still amazing that such large percentages of what people fork over out of their own pockets for health care goes to unproven “natural remedies” or thoroughly discredited nonsense like homeopathy. This confirms that people have a poor ability to judge the reliability of the health care information they receive and are easily taken advantage of, intentionally or not, by providers of unproven or bogus medical approaches.
So the next time a CAM proponent suggests that advocates of scientific medicine are Big Pharma shills trying to deny people safe and effective natural therapies because these are FREE, you might want to point them in the direction of this study.