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The Alternative Health Sector Doesn't Exist…Yet
Linda Goin

Three weeks ago, one of my legs was one-half inch higher than the other leg. I've endured this issue since my teens, and one doctor blamed it on the way I sat at a piano during ten years' worth of classical piano lessons. I was advised to wear a lift in one shoe, and I ignored that advice, despite my mother's weak persistence. A lift? Not cool, especially for a teen.

So, for over forty years, I learned how to walk, stand and sit with this defect, thinking all the while that it could not be remedied. But, when I began to experience lower back pain and mid-back muscle weakness, I decided to do something about it. So, as I mentioned in a previous article, I began to see a chiropractor.

To my surprise, the chiropractic sessions were covered by insurance after my deductible. In fact, my particular health insurance covers up to 25 visits to a chiropractor per year. When did this happen? And, when will acupuncture begin to be covered with the same aplomb as a visit to the chiropractor?

Perhaps the answer lies in the number of years that chiropractic practice existed. But, no – acupuncture dates back to the second century, almost eight hundred years ago in China; however, chiropractic – also defined as an “alternative medicine” – dates back only 120 years to 1890 in Canada. So, why is a newer medical practice (albeit alternative as well) be more palatable to insurance companies than a practice that is centuries old? Is it, perhaps, because acupuncture was developed in Eastern culture, which chiropractic was developed in the Western world?

That is not the answer. In fact, some insurance does cover acupuncture if doctors use it, but it does not cover it if licensed acupuncturists use it. Some plans do cover acupuncture, no matter who practices this alternative medicine. Some plans offer unlimited coverage. Others cover 35 treatments a year. But some cover as few as 2 treatments per month. Since most acupuncture treatment plans require a minimum of 10 to 15 treatments within the span of a few weeks, an insurance plan that covers only a few treatments may not be helpful.

The reason I looked into this matter is because my mother is experiencing pain in her knees. Her doctor expressed his desire for surgery, but I think quite a few readers either have experienced or know someone who has experienced knee surgery. The surgery isn't that bad...but the recovery and therapy after the surgery can be excruciating, no matter a person's age. For an elderly person, the recovery might be devastating.

When a friend of my mother's decided to use acupuncture as one of her treatments for cancer, my mother inquired about the ability to try that medical remedy for her knees. But, her insurance will not cover acupuncture. It will, however, cover surgery and physical therapy. When I asked my mother if her friend's insurance covered acupuncture, she replied, “No.”

The health system in this country is confusing and expensive. I have my thoughts about this issue, but I'll reserve them for other conversations. Instead, I will offer this curious fact: As alternative health investments have entered the stock market, they have been categorized a “consumer staple” by analysts, not as medical investments. If you go to the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (a government site), you can learn:

As defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Previously referred to as alternative medicine, the addition of the term “complementary” emphasizes the trend in which CAM is used in conjunction with conventional systems of medicine. For example, acupuncture has been used to combat the nausea that can accompany chemotherapy.

You also can learn that AAMA (American Academy of Medical Acupuncture) is a physician-only professional acupuncture society, recognized by the government as “legitimate.” The largest chiropractic professional organization, the American Chiropractic Association, is the only one recognized on this site as well. In other words, a practice must be American before it is recognized by the government.

It seems that investing in alternative medicinal practice is as difficult to achieve as the ability to comprehend the health coverage that all Americans have (or don't have). But, if you study consumer staples, you might learn more about how the low price elasticity of demand in this sector could prove encouraging for a long-term investor. And, if alternative medicine continues to be categorized in this sector, consumers may see a cost or price reduction as demand increases.

If you delve deeper into consumer staples, you may learn that this sector also covers food, beverages and tobacco. Odd bedfellows for alternative healing practices, unless you also consider health foods and drinks and, possibly, supplements.

I do know that I'm floored by the success of my chiropractic treatments within the past month, and I do understand why I need to attend so many sessions on the front end. “Muscle memory” can tend to pull bones back into previous malfunction, and numerous sessions on the front end can 'teach' those muscles to release that prior memory. My lower back pain has decreased significantly, and – with the help of a renewed yoga practice – my middle back muscles finally are taking some of that load off my lower back.

As a personal investment, this alternative treatment is working for me; but, I can't think of a reason why I need to add consumer staples to my portfolio right now. However, for the ethical investor who wants some consumer staples to replace unhealthy products in that portfolio, the time may be just right for that move. Just think of your investment as a long-term affair, much like a person would look at a change in diet to achieve ultimate health and permanent weight loss (despite traditional medical advice, I might add).

Don't expect an alternative health sector any time soon. Until alternative medicinal practice receives respect from big pharm (which may be never), alternative medicines and therapies may remain a sideline, unavailable to many sufferers, but available as curious investment strategies.

Until Later,
Linda Goin

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