Americans spend about $34 billion annually on alternative medicine, according to the first national estimate of such out-of-pocket spending in more than a decade.
Chiropractors, acupuncturists and herbal remedies are commanding more consumer dollars as people seek high-touch care in a high-tech society, the report released Thursday by the government shows.
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. A whopping $3 billion was spent on homeopathy.
The report is based on a 2007 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of more than 23,000 adults nationwide. An earlier report from this survey, released in December, found that more than one-third of adults use alternative medicine.
That includes a wide range of services from meditation and yoga to dietary supplements, such as echinacea and ginseng. Vitamins and minerals are not included in this report but will be addressed in a future one.
Pain a main driver
Pain was the main reason people tried massage, chiropractic care and other alternative therapies. Among supplement users, most popular were glucosamine for joint pain and fish oil to cut the risk of heart disease.
The new survey results focus on how often Americans use these things, and how much they pay for them.
Alternative medicine now accounts for more than 11 percent of out-of-pocket spending on health care in the United States, the researchers said.
About 44 cents out of every dollar spent on alternative medicine was for products like fish oil, glucosamine and echinacea. Spending on these products was nearly $15 billion, or about a third of what Americans spend out-of-pocket for prescription drugs.
Rising cost of natural cures
The last government estimate out-of-pocket spending on alternative medicine came from a 1997 survey. That research estimated $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.