Alternative Medicine for the Mainstream Masses (by Melissa Monroy)

acupunctureFor my theme of Health and Wellness, the question I chose to research was whether or not Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatments should be covered by insurance under ObamaCare. I used my research collection to inform myself about the various issues surrounding the coverage of CAM, so I could feel educated enough to form a solid, supportable opinion. I decided to write a letter to Senator Merkley, urging him to work to include CAM treatments in the health coverage that ObamaCare provides. 

Part I: The Research Collection 

Majette, Gwendolyn Roberts. “Healthcare Reform & the Missing Voice of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.” Houston Journal of Health Law & Policy Vol. 101 (2010): 35-62. Web. 16 November, 2013.

Gwendolyn Roberts Majette is a Global Health Law Scholar at Georgetown. She also has Capitol Hill experience, and was a fellow with the Health Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee of the United States House of Representatives and with Senator Debbie Stabenow. The article she wrote is in support of including CAM coverage in insurance, and outlines how exactly it should be incorporated into the healthcare reform.

This article was very in depth, and provided both a lot of background information as well as a lot of solid reasons as to why it is in the best interest of both insurance companies and consumers to have this type of medicine covered by insurance. She points out the large amount of people in the United States who use CAM, the large percentage of these who use CAM services to prevent future illness, to pursue wellness, or for health improvement, and notes that it is already one standard approach people use to treat and prevent illness. There are a lot of statistics in this article regarding who is the ‘typical’ CAM patient, and cites statistics that say it is more likely to be used by those with higher income levels and higher levels of education. This article was great overall for providing a lot of supporting statistics in favor of CAM treatments being covered by insurance.

Salzberg, Steven. “Alternative Medicine Providers Show Their Greedy Side”. Forbes. N.p., 26 August, 2013. Web. 16 November, 2013.

This is an article written by Steven Salzberg, a Professor of Medicine and Biostatistics in the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine. It discusses the proposed coverage of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) by ObamaCare, taking a decidedly negative standpoint against such coverage.

This article is very useful because it provides an alternate viewpoint on this subject. It offers many valid points, but was mainly useful to illuminate some of the arguments against including CAM coverage in health insurance. It also provides some of the backstory about the process and lobbying involved in getting any coverage included in ObamaCare. The author doesn’t believe in the effectiveness of alternative medicine, and feels like allowing the insured to dictate where they want their insurance money to go is a waste of resources and will ultimately drive up healthcare costs.

Thompson, Jennifer Jo. “Complementary & Alternative Medicine in the US Health Insurance Reform Debate: An Anthropological Assessment is Warranted.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 583 (2002): 64-75. Web. 17 November, 2013.

This article explores the cost benefits to insurance companies, and why it would be in their best interest to cover CAM modalities.

This article is useful in an economic sense. It includes a lot of cost and benefit analysis data, something not previously found in any of the articles. This information is really useful in supporting the claim that in the long run, CAM coverage will actually cost insurance companies less money. There are a lot of statistics from various studies included here, and this article also covers some of the various types of coverage of CAM treatments from state to state. There is mention of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act here, and a brief explanation of it’s intention.

Worth, Tammy. “Alternative Medicine a Prickly Subject.” Los Angeles Times. N.p., 27 September, 2010. Web. 17 November, 2013.

This article is a journalistic piece investigating what services are covered by various insurances, and who seems to be utilizing CAM the most.

This article is informative as to what insurance companies currently cover various CAM services, as well as their reasoning behind doing so. This was very very useful, as it helped steer some of my research in a slightly different direction. This article points out that a really good incentive for insurance companies to cover these services could be that they are often used as a rather inexpensive form of preventative care, and those people who use CAM services often tend to be more proactive about caring for their own health, leading to overall lower health costs for the insurance company providing for them.

Part II: The Public Writing

Screen shot 2013-11-27 at 5.49.20 PMThe Honorable Senator Jeff Merkley

313 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Re: Insurance Coverage of Alternative Medicine


November 26, 2013

Dear Senator Merkley,

I am a resident of Portland, Oregon, and I am a 32 year old community health student and volunteer, and I have not had access to health insurance for six years. I am proud of all of the hard work you, and the rest of the Senate, have done to make ObamaCare a reality. I am one of the many Americans who will benefit from your efforts to cover the uninsured, and I cannot thank you enough. However, there is still more work to be done.

Without insurance, whenever I’ve been ill, I have had to weigh the urgency of my health situation with my ability to pay the resulting bills, and make my decision thusly. In order to help fend off future illness as well as treat a chronic condition I have, I eventually turned to alternative medicine. Acupuncture and herbal treatments, when I can afford them, have turned out to be life savers for me. I am not alone. The use of alternative medicine is on the rise, with Americans spending more than $33 billion annually on complementary treatments. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, this adds up to just over 11% of the total out of pocket health care spending. Alternative medicine is gaining traction, and is rapidly moving into the mainstream.

President Obama has vowed to do more to “instill a culture of wellness” in America. One very effective way to do this would be to include coverage for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in the next ObamaCare coverage redesign. Studies have shown that of those who use CAM treatments, a large percentage of those do so to prevent future illness or for health improvement. If we, as a nation, are really serious about overhauling the healthcare system and reducing costs in the long run, preventative medicine, education, and wellness promotion should be where we focus our efforts. If we can take steps to prevent chronic illness, we can reduce the burden on the healthcare system and the skyrocketing costs of treatment in the future.

I realize that when ObamaCare was initially designed, the issues being faced were so large, that CAM registered very low on the priority list. However, now that the initial phase of ObamaCare has been put into action, I urge you to please consider including coverage of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the next coverage redesign. While the cost impact is expected to be minimal, and, in fact, may prove beneficial in the long run, the health impact on this Nation’s citizens will be profound.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration to this matter.


Melissa Monroy  


Author’s Note:

I really learned a lot from researching this project and writing to Senator Merkley. I think the most significant learning I gained from this is the feeling of affecting change. This project made me really feel engaged in a topic that had previously felt out of my control completely. Educating myself on a topic close to my heart, and actually turning this knowledge into a piece of writing with power, was a very inspirational experience. Combined with my volunteer experience, this project really spurred a desire in me to help others and work to make changes in society that benefit everyone.




  1. Hi Melissa,

    I find your letter and your supporting research very compelling. Your sources are credible and powerful, and I especially love that you included the article, “Alternative Medicine Providers Show Their Greedy Side” to reflect an opposing view on the subject. I can tell from your writing that you are passionate about this topic; it really elevates your work to another level.
    I truly do not have any constructive criticism. I can only say I love it! In reading the letter, I found myself thinking “there’s no way Senator Merkley can ignore this”. Your letter is well organized, professional, insightful, and includes cold hard data (nice logos approach there!). Great job on your culminating project!

    -Wendy Jordan

  2. Melissa: This project has been so inspiring. You really found a way to empower yourself through your research and writing and to educate us all on your topic in a way that is incredibly engaging. The way you connect to very current issues (like coverage under the Obama Health Plan) has made the writing very relevant.

    Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: