Editorial: Talking Economics

By Len Monheit

It’s a dry subject. It takes meticulous research and attention to details. It demands a big picture approach. It’s mostly about numbers. It’s certainly not an approach for everyone.

An economic rationale for supplementation and fortification--

-The development and presentation of economic arguments to drive the complementary medicines sector and to reinforce the need for a dietary supplementation strategy.

HMO’s have successfully used the argument to gain coverage for complementary medical care.

The question obviously is, “How does the argument get taken to a higher, economic level?”

And with the recent reversal of the AMA (American Medical Association) in its position regarding vitamin and mineral supplementation and endorsing supplementation to shore up inadequate dietary levels, you would think that the economic argument of health cost containment would be used more frequently by industry associations and groups seeking to establish and strengthen the role of dietary supplementation and complementary medicine. Although the thin edge of the wedge would obviously be vitamins, the argument would presumably extend to other products and services that would reduce strain and cost on bulging health care systems, and would have a preventative or prophylactic approach rather than a reactive one, (which many would argue makes economic and efficiency sense) Groups would then be able to speak about and reinforce effective programs such as the Healthy Foundation’s Vitamin Relief USA presenting at-risk populations with opportunities for nutritional supplementation.

This approach is different from the traditional lobbying of government representatives and agencies. At a conference this past week, a lobby expert acknowledged the merits of the economic approach, and went on to explain why he held little confidence that government would be moved by traditional approaches despite strong scientific evidence supporting many products, as well as the support of associations such as the AMA. When pressed for reasons why the argument is not more frequently used, this person was at a loss and speculated that it was difficult to get to a big enough picture or view, where the economic impact could be analyzed.

The question obviously is, “How does the argument get taken to a higher, economic level?” Will the numbers support the theory that supplementation, fortification, complementary medicine and therapies will reduce health care costs, improve productivity and improve standard of life?

Unfortunately, economic argument, by definition, is certainly not an emotional one, and so gaining support, advocates and endorsement is more challenging. As well, the issue supercedes specific companies and products and so must be managed from a broad base.

I’ve spoken frequently with industry colleagues who maintain that talking to the business community--about employee absences, the cost of benefit administration, rising health cost burden in general and approaching insurance companies and other stakeholders at this level would be a useful industry exercise. And at another level, a healthier workforce obviously is a more productive one, and productivity has been a serious concern for international competitiveness, so it would seem that a compelling business case could be included in discussions about supplementation and food and beverage fortification.

I know I’m not the only one struck by the logic of the argument. I’d certainly be interested in hearing from others, perhaps even those who have used it—successfully or not.

Let's hear your comments in the NPIcenter Discussion Forums

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