Objectives: To assess the status of managed care and insurance coverage of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and the integration of such services into conventional medicine.
Methods: A literature review and information search was conducted to determine which insurers had special policies for CAM. Telephone interviews were conducted with a definitive sample of 9 out of 10 new MCOs or insurers identified in 1998 and a cohort of eight MCOs and insurers who responded both to the original survey in 1997 and again in 1998 to determine trends.
Results: This study constitutes the results of the second year of a 3-year ongoing survey. For 1998, 10 MCOs and insurance carriers initiated CAM coverage. Survey results are analyzed for these 10 new providers as well as the results of a cohort of eight insurers surveyed in both 1997 and 1998 to determine current trends. A majority of the insurers interviewed offer some coverage for the following: nutrition counseling, biofeedback, psychotherapy, acupuncture, preventive medicine, chiropractic, osteopathy, and physical therapy. All new MCOs and 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, consumer interest, demonstrable clinical efficacy, and state mandates. 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 MCOs and insurance companies to assess the benefits of incorporating CAM. Outcomes studies for both conventional and CAM therapies are needed to help create a health care system based upon treatments that work, whether they are conventional, complementary, or alternative.