| Thu, Mar 28, 2013 @ 09:00 AM

Older Adults and Nontraditional Health Care: The Doctor Is In

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

CAMDo you take any dietary supplements, like fish oil or glucosamine? Do you receive treatment from a massage therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist or other non-traditional health practitioner? If so, then you are a consumer of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

An April 2011 survey report from AARP and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) states that:

  • 53% of people age 50 and older said they used CAM at some point in their lives
  • 39% reported using it in the past 12 months

CAM therapies can have an effect on how prescription drugs and other conventional therapies work. The AARP/NCCAM survey showed that the vast majority of adults who use CAM (67%) did not discuss it with their health care providers. Of those who did (33%), most brought it up themselves during an appointment. This suggests that both patients and providers need to step up communication about CAM and its use.

What is CAM?

CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.

  • Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. An example of this is a patient using meditation to help manage pain after surgery.
  • Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example of alternative therapy is a patient using a special diet to treat cancer rather than undergoing surgery, chemotherapy or radiation that has been recommended by a medical doctor.

The list of what is considered to be CAM changes continually. Some of these therapies are taken up by the medical community, researched and proven to be safe and effective. These may be adopted into conventional health care. For many CAM therapies, key questions remain to be answered through well-designed scientific studies. At the same time, new CAM approaches emerge and people try them after reading an article or hearing about them from a friend.

According to the survey, the most-used CAM therapies are:

  • Herbal products and dietary supplements, like fish oil
  • Massage therapy, chiropractic manipulation and other forms of bodywork
  • Mind-body practices, such as meditation, yoga, Qigong, tai chi, etc.
  • Naturopathy, acupuncture and homeopathy

Paying for CAM

Medicare does not cover alternative therapies. Neither do most other health insurance plans, except perhaps on a limited basis. You will likely pay 100% of the cost if you choose to use a CAM product or service.

If you are interested in using a CAM service, it’s important to find out ahead of time what it will cost and whether your insurance will help pay for it. For practitioner-base services, such as acupuncture, be sure to ask the therapist how many sessions you’re likely to need and how much the first and any follow-up sessions will cost. Some practitioners may offer a payment plan over time or sliding-scale fees based on your ability to pay.

And finally, remember to talk to your doctor about anything and everything you are doing related to your health, including CAM products and services you may be using. That way, everything can be considered in developing a comprehensive health care plan individualized for you.

For more information, contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048. If you have questions about Medicare Made Clear, call 1-877-619-5582, TTY 711, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. local time, seven days a week.


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