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Consumers Spend More Than $30 Billion on Alternative Medicine

Posted: August 11, 2009

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The survey shows about 35 cents of each alternative therapy dollar was for visits to acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists and other practitioners. That totals nearly $12 billion, or about one-quarter of what Americans spend on visits to mainstream physicians. "Some of the useful things chiropractors are doing amounts to physical therapy," Wolfe said. "Medicine is beginning to realize how important physical therapy is."

The last government estimate for out-of-pocket spending on alternative medicine came from a 1997 survey. That research suggested $27 billion was being spent. The new report concludes that 38 million adults visited alternative medicine practitioners in 2007. They paid less than $50 per visit on average, but many paid $75 or more for services such as acupuncture, homeopathy and hypnosis therapy.

The average annual spending per person to see practitioners was about $122, and the average spending on products was $177. A whopping $3 billion was spent on homeopathy, a form of treatment that uses highly diluted drugs made from natural ingredients and based on a theory unverified by mainstream science.

Private insurance paid for about 43% of all alternative medicine in 2007, public insurance paid for 31% and patients paid for the rest, according to a separate government report.

Dianne Shaw, a media relations worker at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sees value in at least one form of alternative medicine—acupuncture. She says acupuncture helped her recover from a stroke-like facial nerve paralysis that standard drugs didn't remedy. During an exam, one of her doctors commented on her progress, and she revealed that she was getting acupuncture. "They said, 'Well I'm glad it worked,' " Shaw said.