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Will Healthcare Reform Mean the End of NCCAM?

With President Obama in office and the United States hungry for improved health and wellness, the prospect of true healthcare reform seems more plausible than it has in decades. Advocates of better nutrition and creating a healthcare system that focuses on preventing disease before it takes hold believe the time could be right for finally building pragmatic, integrative solutions to some of the United States’ great healthcare challenges. Others, however, believe the winds are actually turning in favor of closing the door on government-funded research of complementary and integrative health modalities.

In fact, according to a March 17 Washington Post article, a move to defund the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is picking up steam. Here’s an excerpt:

The impending national discussion about broadening access to health care, improving medical practice and saving money is giving a group of scientists an opening to make a once-unthinkable proposal: Shut down the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

The notion that the world’s best-known medical research agency sponsors studies of homeopathy, acupuncture, therapeutic touch and herbal medicine has always rankled many scientists…

“With a new administration and President Obama’s stated goal of moving science to the forefront, now is the time for scientists to start speaking up about issues that concern us,” Steven Salzberg, a genome researcher and computational biologist at the University of Maryland, said last week. “One of our concerns is that the NIH is funding pseudoscience.”

Not surprisingly, after this article was published, the blogosphere lit up with people who both strongly oppose and favor the idea of defunding NCCAM. According to the Nature’s Answer to Cancer blog, which is written by Kim Dalzell, PhD, RD, “the idea for shutting down NCCAM, as reported in the Washington Post, came about because the Obama transition team felt that NIH was funding pseudoscience and there needed to be a redirection of funds for real science. The proposal generated 218 comments, most of them in favor, before the notice closed on Jan. 19."

Just what this stepped-up push against NCCAM will ultimately mean remains a question. However, this movement stands in stark opposition to the growing acceptance of integrative medicine by the conventional medical community and the desire mounting for the creation of a healthcare system centered around promoting wellness and a patient’s whole health, as was seen during the Institute of Medicine’s Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public, held February 25-27.

As Ralph Snyderman, MD, chancellor emeritus for health affairs at Duke University and chair of the Summit, told Nutrition Business Journal in late 2008, the need for such reform is dire. “Despite spending more than any other country on healthcare — $2.3 trillion a year — 47 million Americans are uninsured, and those who are insured often don't have access to any type of coherent, coordinated way to maintain their health,” Snyderman said. “Even with individuals who are well insured, when an event occurs, they realize how uncoordinated and uncaring the system is. This is the American healthcare dilemma.”

“If we fail to seize this unique opportunity to adopt a pragmatic, integrative approach to healthcare it will constitute a failure and we must not fail,” Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told the more than 600 people attending the Summit on Integrative Medicine. “It is my intention to change our health system and to place integrative health care at the heart of the reform legislation we will pass this year.”

Want to immerse yourself in the world of integrative medicine and learn more about the opportunities and challenges facing integrative practitioners? Check out NBJ’s 2009 Integrative Medicine report, which features an in‐depth analysis of the U.S. integrative medicine market in a time where many consumers are looking for less‐expensive alternatives to conventional healthcare. This report focuses on nine primary alternative health service modalities—Chiropractic, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Massage Therapy, Naturopathy, Ayurveda, Osteopathy, and Nurses and MDs—and includes discussion of the key trends affecting each of these modalities and the integrative medicine industry as a whole. It also provides 12 years worth of data, including market size, growth, revenue estimates for therapies and services, and practitioner channel supplement sales. In addition, the report includes consumer healthcare spending estimates and an analysis of the condition‐specific supplement, OTC and prescription drug markets in 16 categories, ranging from joint health to gastrointestinal health.

Related links:

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Briggs: Supplement Use is Being Influenced by Science

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