August 2002 Bulletin

White House commission issues final report outlining public policy role in CAM

By Jennifer Kunde

This past March, the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP) —established by President Clinton in 2000 to evaluate complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices and use, and comprised of physicians, consumers and alternative health care practitioners—issued its final report to public policy makers on the appropriate access to and delivery of complementary and alternative medicine. The report contains several legislative and administrative recommendations for use of CAM and was sent to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The 10-chapter report outlines an ambitious set of suggested action items for both the Congress and Federal agencies and covers a wide range of topics, including calls for increased CAM research funding, as well as greater attention to the education, training and licensing procedures for CAM practitioners. A key point raised by WHCCAMP describes a need for the Federal government to take a more prominent role in alerting the general public as to the quality and safety of CAM practices and products. In particular, the Commission cited dietary supplements as an area in need of greater scrutiny. WHCCAMP also identified several barriers that prevent consumers from accessing a full range of safe and effective CAM practices and, as a result, suggested that insurers begin to consider coverage for proven complementary and alternative practices.

Report raises concerns

Controversy surrounded the report’s release when two Commission members —Joseph Fins, MD and Tieraona Low Dog, MD—raised concerns about the tone of the report as well as the depth and breadth of its recommendations. In an accompanying letter submitted by the two physicians, several critiques were made about the report. In particular, concerns were raised about the call for additional research funds to be directed toward CAM, especially given the scarcity of dollars available for current research projects. They also cited the failure of the report to define the distinctions between safe and effective CAM treatments and unproven ones.

However, since WHCCAMP was created by a previous administration, and the recommendations are non-binding, it is unclear what steps President Bush and HHS may do to address any of the concerns that were raised. Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), chair of the House Government Reform Committee, has indicated a willingness to review the report’s recommendations, but, given the short legislative session that remains and other more important Congressional priorities, such as homeland security, it is not likely that any action will be taken soon. Regardless, given the heightened public awareness and use of CAM, it is clear that a number of the issues identified by WHCCAMP will need to be addressed at some point.

The AAOS Committee on Complementary and Alternative Medicine followed the WHCCAMP’s proceedings carefully and will continue to monitor any possible legislative and administrative action.

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