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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

United Press International
May 27, 2004

by ELLEN BECK

Health Biz: Adults seek health options

WASHINGTON, May 27 (UPI) -- A government survey released Thursday finds one-third of U.S. adults have used complementary or alternative medicine -- a health industry sector pegged at $30 billion a year and growing in 2001.

The information, based on interviews with some 31,000 adults in 2002, comes from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. It looks at a key business aspect -- who is using what and why -- but not at safety and efficacy.

Some 36 percent of those asked said they had used CAM in the previous 12 months. That figure shoots to 62 percent if prayer is included as a treatment option. CAM options studied included 10 types of provider-based therapies -- such as acupuncture and chiropractic -- as well as 17 self-treatments, including supplements, vitamins and special diets.

Dr. Stephen Straus, NCCAM director, told reporters, "It provides a baseline against which future comparisons can be made."

As to what people are using:

-- natural products -- herbs and botanicals -- 19 percent;

-- deep breathing exercises, 12 percent;

-- prayer groups, 10 percent;

-- meditation, 8 percent;

-- chiropractic care, 8 percent;

-- yoga and massage, 5 percent, and

-- diets, such as Atkins, Pritikin, Ornish, and Zone, 4 percent.

As to why people are using CAM:

-- 55 percent because they believed it would help when combined with conventional medical treatments;

-- 50 percent because they thought CAM would be interesting to try;

-- 26 percent because a healthcare professional suggested it, and

-- 13 percent because conventional medicine was too expensive.

The researchers found CAM was most often used to treat back pain, colds, neck pain, joint pain or stiffness, and anxiety or depression. Only about 12 percent of respondents said they had sought care from a licensed CAM practitioner, however.

DISCOUNT CARDS SLOW ON THE UPTAKE

There seems to be plenty of interest among seniors in the Medicare prescription drug discount cards but anecdotal evidence shows enrollment so far is low.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports thousands of calls daily to the toll-free information line and card vendors likewise -- but the few initial reports are out there are showing enrollments in the hundreds.

The seniors' organization AARP said Wednesday it was getting up to 12,000 calls a week asking for information on its discount card, it has sent out more than 20,000 enrollment kits, but so far, only 400 people have enrolled.

Several factors are in play. Seniors probably still are confused over what card -- if any -- is best for them and they will can it slow going at the Medicare price comparison Web site and a possibly long wait to get help on the toll-free line.

CMS still is working with vendors to get the price bugs out of the system so the comparisons reflect true pricing and discounts. Seniors are waiting before committing to a card -- they must do so for the entire year -- to make sure their card selection is the best.

There also is confusion over signing up for the extra $600 in transitional money for low-income seniors although Thursday CMS said another $4.6 million would go toward setting up community-based groups that will help educate seniors on how to enroll for that help.

The discounts kick in on Tuesday and, as AARP Chief Executive Officer Bill Novelli told media, the cards are an "evolving thing."

"There is no question that this is a work in progress and there is a lot of work that needs to be done," he said.

CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY OK'S DRUG BILLS

The California Assembly this week passed five bills dealing with prescription drugs -- and at least one sparked the ire of the pharmacy benefit managers association.

Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights rejoiced, however, and wrote the bills "lead the nation in reform and could provide access to dramatically cheaper prescription drugs."

One bill -- setting up reimportation of drugs from Canada -- runs afoul of federal law, but the others include authorizing a new state bulk purchasing program for small business and the uninsured, and another calls for the state to audit its drug purchase and reimbursement practices in regard to state agencies.

What has the PBM industry upset is AB 1960, which requires PBMs to register with the Board of Pharmacy and provide the state -- and at times the public -- information on drug rebates, revenues and drug formularies -- much of which PBMs prefer to keep private.

A statement issued by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association said the bill would raise prescription drug prices in the state and give over negotiating power to the pharmaceutical companies.

PCMA President Mark Merritt said, "This legislation does nothing to lower the cost of prescription drugs."

ADVISORY GROUP FORMS FOR EMERGENCY CARE

A technical advisory group, which will meet at least twice yearly, has been set up by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It was mandated by the new Medicare law and will review federal regulations for hospitals under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. That governs how people arriving at emergency departments are treated and the rights they have. Four members of the group will be from hospitals -- at least one from a public hospital -- and seven members will be practicing physicians.

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E-mail ebeck@upi.com


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