Where Does Complementary and Alternative Health Fit into Health Care Reform?

doctor examining patient

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – more commonly known as the Affordable Care Act – brought health care and health insurance to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness when it was signed into law back in 2010. Years later, the massive legislation continues to be debated and face legal challenges. One of the key aspects of the Affordable Care Act was that it instituted new minimum standards of coverage for all applicants. But one area that is not generally covered under the various insurance plans offered through Medicare, Medicaid, and Affordable Care exchanges is complementary and alternative health.

Complementary and alternative health is a wide-ranging field that spans ancient practices and cutting-edge techniques. It includes everything from Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, naturopathic medicine, biofeedback, herbal remedies, chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, hypnosis, acupressure, reiki, reflexology, energy systems, meditation, and even prayer. Complementary and alternative health has sometimes been used as a supplement to more traditional therapies, providing an extra tool for coping with major illnesses and diseases.

Complementary and alternative health is also big business. In 2012, the National Health Statistics Reports stated that about 33% of American adults had used some form of complementary and alternative medicine during the previous year. And since insurance doesn’t cover most of these therapies, Americans are paying a fortune for these health options. The 2012 National Health Interview Survey found that about 59 million Americans spend a total of $30.2 billion out-of-pocket on visits to complementary practitioners1 each year.

If so many people find value in these alternative treatments – and are even willing to crack open their wallets to pay for them – then why don’t insurance plans cover most of them? Insurance companies are allowed to place limits on any treatments that they view as experimental or medically unnecessary. To qualify for full insurance coverage, a therapy will usually need to be backed up by an abundance of research in peer-reviewed medical journals that support the treatment’s safety and efficacy. Any treatment that falls short of those standards may not be covered by insurance or may be accompanied with restrictions about how many treatments are allowed. In effect, these restrictions are a safeguard to protect consumers from dubious practitioners.

It’s hard to argue with the wisdom of protecting consumers. But is there a chance that insurance companies might change their minds about complementary and alternative health measures as more and more Americans find success with them? Maybe.

There is at least one government agency that is actively advocating for the mainstreaming of non-allopathic treatments. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is one of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission “is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health interventions and their roles in improving health and health care.” Some of the NCCIH’s recent research results have suggested that tai chi2 is as helpful in treating knee osteoarthritis as physical therapy and clinical acupuncture3 may improve symptoms of menopause.

Regardless of who is paying for it, complementary and alternative health has proven to be a popular option for many Americans. If you are interested in being a part of this field, consider a Bachelor of Arts in Complementary and Alternative Health.


Written by Erik Siwak, Communications Manager for Bridgepoint Education

For more information about on-time completion rates, the median loan debt of students who completed each program, and other important information, please visit http://www.ashford.edu/pd/obacah.

1Successful completion of the Complementary and Alternative Health degree by itself does not lead to licensure or certification in any state, regardless of concentration or specialization. Further, Ashford University does not guarantee that any professional organization will accept a graduate's application to sit for any exam for the purpose of professional certification. Students seeking licensure or certification in a particular profession are strongly encouraged to carefully research the requirements prior to enrollment. Requirements may vary by state. Further, a criminal record may prevent an applicant from obtaining licensure, certification, or employment in this field of study.

2Study Shows Tai Chi and Physical Therapy Were Equally Helpful for Knee Osteoarthritis. (2016, May 17). Retrieved August 22, 2016, from https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/tai-chi-knee-osteoarthritis_2016

3Acupuncture, as Practiced in Clinical Settings, May Significantly Improve Menopause-related Symptoms. (2016, March 18). Retrieved August 22, 2016, from https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/acupuncture-menopause-symptoms_2016

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