Insurance coverage of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is expanding. However, to the authors' knowledge, little is know concerning CAM utilization among cancer patients under the insurance model of financing. In this study, the authors evaluated CAM provider utilization by cancer patients in a state that requires the inclusion of alternative practitioners in private, commercial insurance products.
An analysis was carried out of year 2000 claims data from two large Washington State insurance companies.
Of 357,709 claimants, 7915 claimants (2.3%) had a cancer diagnosis. Among cancer patients, 7.1% had a claim for naturopathy, acupuncture, or massage; and 11.6% had a claim for chiropractic during the study year. The use of naturopathy (odds ratio [OR], 2.0; P<0.001) and acupuncture (OR, 1.4; P<0.001) were more common, and the use of chiropractic was less common (OR, 0.9; P<0.001) for cancer patients compared with those without cancer. No significant differences were noted in the use of massage between the two groups. Except in 2 individuals (0.03%), cancer patients also had at least 1 conventional provider claim during the year. Factors associated with nonchiropractic alternative provider use were female gender, the presence of metastatic cancer, hematologic malignancy, and the use of chemotherapy. Increased use of naturopathic physicians accounted for much of this trend. Musculoskeletal pain was the most common diagnosis at the CAM provider visit. Billed amounts for alternative services were <2% of the overall medical bills for cancer patients.
A substantial number of insured cancer patients will use alternative providers if they are given the choice. The cost of this treatment is modest compared with conventional care charges. For individuals with cancer, CAM providers do not appear to be replacing conventional providers but instead are integrated into overall care.
Copyright 2004 American Cancer Society.