Objectives: To assess the status of managed care and insurance coverage of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and the integration of such services offered by hospitals.
Methods: A literature review and information search was conducted to determine which insurers had special policies for CAM and which hospitals were offering CAM. Telephone interviews were conducted with a definitive sample of 18 insurers and a representative subsample of seven hospitals.
Results: A majority of the insurers interviewed offered some coverage for the following: nutrition counseling, biofeedback, psychotherapy, acupuncture, preventive medicine, chiropractic, osteopathy, and physical therapy. Twelve insurers said that market demand was their primary motivation for covering CAM. Factors determining whether insurers would offer coverage for additional therapies included potential cost-effectiveness based on consumer interest, demonstrable clinical efficacy, and state mandates. Some hospitals are also responding to consumer interest in CAM, although hospitals can only offer CAM therapies for which local, licensed practitioners are available. Among the most common obstacles listed to incorporating CAM into mainstream health care were lack of research on efficacy, economics, ignorance about CAM, provider competition and division, and lack of standards of practice.
Conclusions: Consumer demand for CAM is motivating more insurers and hospitals to assess the benefits of incorporating CAM. Outcomes studies for both allopathic and CAM therapies are needed to help create a health care system based upon treatments that work, whether they are mainstream, complementary, or alternative.