Objectives: The authors investigated whether insurance coverage for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) providers is associated with increased medical care use among diabetes patients. Predictors of CAM use and how CAM affects health care use and expenditures under insurance coverage were examined.
Design: Claims data from two large insurers in Washington State were obtained for 2002. Types of providers used, comorbid medical conditions, number of visits, and expenditures were calculated for the study sample and compared to a nondiabetic matched group.
Results: Of the 20,722 adults with diabetes, 3605 (17.4%) had one or more visits to any licensed CAM provider (mostly chiropractors). This was lower than the 20% CAM use in the comparison group. Diabetes patients who used CAM were more likely to have multiple other medical problems than CAM nonusers. CAM users had a higher average number of annual outpatient visits compared to nonusers (28 versus 16), and higher average annual expenditures (8,736 dollars versus 7,356 dollars); however, after adjustment for disease load and other factors, CAM use was not a significant predictor of expenditures. CAM use was <2% of the overall mean medical expenditures for diabetes patients. Quality of conventional care was similar for CAM users and nonusers.
Conclusions: CAM provider usage when covered by insurance is lower among diabetes patients than in adults without diabetes and represents a small proportion of diabetes care costs. Very few CAM visits were related directly to diabetes care. CAM-using patients often have heavy disease burdens and high total expected resource use compared to those not using CAM.