Spending on Complementary Health Care

Although Americans spend billions on complementary health care annually, doctors urge patients to make well informed decisions before taking action.


Americans spend billions of dollars out-of-pocket on complementary health care, according to an analysis of data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the CDC.

Of the more than $30 billion spent by consumers, nearly $15 billion went to visits to chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and other complementary practitioners—almost 30% of what Americans spent on out-of-pocket services by conventional physicians. The mean annual out-of-pocket expenditure for practitioner visits was $433. This analysis also included the first-ever data on spending for children: almost $2 billion.

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Americans also spent billions on natural product supplements for an annual mean of $368 or about one-fourth of what they spent on prescription drugs.

Income level made little difference in expenditure. People with family incomes of < $25,000 averaged $314 for visits to complementary practitioners, vs $518 for those with incomes of more than $100,000.

The fact that so many people spent money on complementary approaches is “an indication that users believe enough in the value of these approaches to pay for them,” said Richard Nahin, PhD, lead author of the analysis and lead epidemiologist for National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which conducted the analysis.

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It’s also the reason that it’s “extremely important for us to provide the public with evidence-based information to help inform decisions,” said Josephine Briggs, MD, director of NCCIH. “This underscores the importance of conducting rigorous research to know whether the products and practices being used are safe and effective.”

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