Posted by: Chris Maloney | January 15, 2014

Will Adding Alternative Medicine To Healthcare Be More Or Less Expensive?


One of the standard responses to anyone using alternative care and wanting insurance coverage is that alternative care costs more than conventional care without being more effective.  So when research comes out on the effects of alternative medicine in terms of costs and outcomes, one would think it would receive more coverage.

Based on the results from Washington state, which added alternative medicine to required coverage in 1996, we have very good data now on both the effect and the costs of alternative medicine when it is covered by insurance.  (article here)

For cardiovascular patients, the overall effect was a 3.3% reduction of ten year event risk, resulting in a net savings of “$1,138 per participant and a reduction in employer costs by $1,187 per participant compared to usual care alone.” The only other intervention comparable is aspirin.

In pre-diabetic patients, the drug Metformin was compared to lifestyle changes.  Metformin lowered the risk of diabetes by 31%, and lifestyle changes lowered it by 58%.  The comparable cost for the Metformin was triple that for lifestyle changes.  In addition, the Metformin was not effective after age 65, while lifestyle changes were.

For cancer prevention, women under alternative care were less likely to receive mammograms or chlamydia screening, but did engage in a wide range of healthy activities.

In the treatment of chronic back pain, alternative (Naturopathic) intervention resulted in “a decrease in costs by $1,212 per study participant. Workplace absenteeism was also reduced by 6.7 days.”

For Fibromyalgia patients, those using alternative medicine had more office visits but used similar amounts of healthcare dollars because alternative medical visits are typically lower cost.  Among those patients with both Fibromyalgia and another illness, the costs for those using alternative practitioners were less than those who relied on conventional medicine alone.  Cost savings mounted when pharmacy costs were added, as Fibromyalgia patients using alternative medicine had fewer drugs and decreased costs.

Irritable bowel Syndrome and bowel disorders show similar benefit for patients with the costs being similar.  (This study did odd things like include probiotics as conventional medicine).

In a 2010 analysis of Washington State’s health care expenditures, patients who used alternative medicine were found to be less expensive rather than more.  Those with the highest disease burden saved the state more by using alternative medicine,  costing “an average of $1,420 less annually.”



  1. Great info! Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Thanks! I’d like to think I’m doing the right career to help the health care crisis. But truthfully I would have expected more out-patient costs for alternative medicine. It is pretty amazing that patients saw us more for the same cost, with equal or better results.

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