News & Perspectives

White House Commission Reports on Complementary and Alternative Medicine
The federal government has begun to recognize the reality that millions of Americans use alternative methods of healing--and that they've been paying for it out of their own pockets.

The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) has recommended the creation of a federal office to integrate CAM into the nation's health care system. Established in March 2000, the 20-member Commission included representatives of both mainstream and alternative medicine.

In its March 22, 2002 report to the President, the Commission proposed steps to ensure that "public policy maximizes the potential benefits of [CAM] to all citizens."

Treating the Whole Citizen

The Commission endorsed a "wholeness orientation" in health care, evidence for safety and effectiveness, and respect for individuals' right to choose treatments. They also endorsed prevention, self-care, the integration of both types of medicine, and public involvement in policymaking.

"Substantially more funding for research is needed," the report states. With more information, the public can make "informed, intelligent decisions about their own health and well-being."

Expanding Insurance Coverage

Just as insurance coverage and reimbursement policies have played a crucial role in shaping America's health care system, the Commission notes their "increasingly important role in determining the future of CAM."

Employer-sponsored health plans are the most likely to cover CAM services and products. With scientific evidence of the benefits and cost-effectiveness of CAM, barriers to coverage can be removed, the Commissioners say.

"Any medical or health care intervention that has undergone scientific investigation and has been shown to improve health or functioning" should be considered for inclusion, the report states.

"Health insurance and managed care organizations should...offer purchasers health benefit plans that include safe and effective CAM."

Maximizing Research

Collaboration is key, the Commission says. Major health agencies should work together "to strengthen the dialogue between conventional medicine and CAM."

The same research standards should be applied to both types of medicine, the Commission says, with stronger funding for CAM research at conventional medical and CAM institutions.

Sharing Knowledge

Since the public uses both types of medicine, conventional health professionals should be trained in CAM, and vice versa. The Commission encourages communication between "CAM and conventional students, practitioners, researchers, educators, institutions, and organizations."

So far, obstacles to this cooperation have included resistance to change, lack of funding, and crowded educational curricula.

"Increased Federal, state, and private support should be made available to expand and evaluate CAM faculty, curricula and program development," the report says.

Providing Information and Access

Accurate, easy-to-access information about CAM products, services and practitioners should be made widely available to consumers, who are confused by conflicting information, the Commission says. "Information on [supplement] ingredients, benefits, appropriate use, and potential risks should be made easily available to consumers at the time of purchase."

State regulation of CAM practitioners should also be considered, according to the Commission. With Federal help, states should develop guidelines for accountability and competence, and nationally recognized accrediting bodies should develop strategies for safe and appropriate use of CAM practitioners.

"Americans want to be able to choose from both conventional and CAM practices and...they want assurances that practitioners are
Date Published: 04/30/2002

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