Increasing numbers of health plans in the United States offer complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) benefits despite limited information.
To determine the utilization rates and costs associated with providing CAM services in 2 benefit designs, and to determine the satisfaction of patients in both plans.
Two health plans were identified: a traditional indemnity plan offered through a defined preferred provider organization (PPO) of CAM providers and a health maintenance organization (HMO). Costs and utilization rates for CAM services were compared during a 1-year period of coverage beginning November 1, 1996.
1091 patients in both plans who used CAM services during the month of May 1997 in Washington state.
Only 1% of all patients covered for CAM accessed these services during the study period. A significantly higher percentage of patients in the PPO plan (1.2%) used CAM services compared to the HMO plan (0.6%) (P < .001). However, the average total cost of annual CAM services (plan benefit + user contribution) was similar ($347 in the HMO and $376 in the PPO), and the price per member per month was nearly identical ($0.20 in the HMO and $0.19 in the PPO). Most users perceived these services as helpful.
Utilization of CAM services and per member per month costs were lower than expected given the high interest in CAM services reported in consumer surveys. The high level of satisfaction with CAM services and self-reported decrease in the use of pain medications suggests the need for prospective studies examining the effect of CAM treatments.