Good health, healing and overall wellness doesn’t come from prescription drugs. We maintain wellness by living in balance. We must address our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs, not simply chronic conditions.
A growing number of people want their healthcare to center around healthy, natural living. A recent survey of older Americans discovered that 55 percent said they would consider naturopathic medicine and 100 percent would likely use a naturopathic physician if it was covered by Medicare. However, Medicare benefits, which cover more than 52-million Americans age 65 and older, do not include treatments by naturopathic physicians. The only exception is osteopathic medicine, which includes a holistic approach to care.
In the 13 states that license naturopathic physicians, seniors with private health insurance lose their naturopathic coverage when they switch to Medicare at age 65. The survey uncovered that approximately 75 percent of Medicare beneficiaries prefer natural therapies, including diet or supplements, before prescribing drugs or performing surgery. The lack of Medicare coverage is a barrier to the kind of care seniors want.
In 2007, Americans spent more than $33.9 billion out of pocket on alternative and complementary medicine. 2007 was the latest year for which federal data are available. That amount includes visits to providers such as chiropractors and massage therapists, as well as dietary supplements. Although alternative medicine comprises only 1.5 percent of all U.S. health care spending, it accounts for 11.2 percent of total out-of-pocket healthcare spending, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey.
There’s some evidence that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could be evaluating natural remedies. Since 2003, two naturopathic physicians have been members of the Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC), a group convened under HHS. However, as yet, there are no changes in Medicare coverage.
Naturopathic medicine may offer safe, cost-saving alternatives to conventional medicine, but can it make a positive impact on senior health and on the long-term cost of healthcare? This remains the unanswered question and potentially why the industry remains out in the cold with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.