Dr. Andrew Weil's Center for Integrative Medicine has found a major new funding source thanks to a deal made this morning with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
The Tucson-based center, which controversially merges alternative treatments like acupuncture with conventional medicine, expects to open a Valley clinic sometime next year. (The planned opening is July 1).
Today, county Supervisors approved on a 5-0 vote to allow county workers to use their health benefits for services at Weil's planned center.
It's unclear how much this deal will cost the county, if anything -- in fact, one of the experiment's goals is to determine the cost effect of the integrative-medicine concept. There are no initial costs to the county, which isn't funding the new center's start-up.
What is certain, though, is that Weil's center will benefit from the new clients. The Valley center could take up to 1,800 county employees as patients.
County officials estimate that about 25,000 county employees and their dependents use about $100 million worth of services annually. A big chunk of that goes to primary care physicians, and Weil's center will encourage prospective patients to choose their doctors for primary care.
The agreement (click here to see the PDF) between the county and Weil's center ends in June of 2015, but could be renewed.
The plan calls for a statistical study of the program's effectiveness, both in terms of cost and the patients' medical outcomes.
However, county officials we spoke with today said they don't know the details of how the study will actually be conducted. Nor do they have any estimate of how much money will be diverted from conventional physicians to those in the integrative medicine center.
That said, "we are confident its not going to cost more" than conventional health care, says Chris Bradley, county director of business strategies and health care programs.
The county's health benefits plan, through Cigna, already pays for up to 20 alternative treatments, like acupuncture, each year.
Some folks, including us, are skeptical of alternative treatments that aren't grounded in science. Conventional medicine itself can be pretty sketchy.
One of the things that sets off our baloney meter when it comes to acupuncture is the large number of ailments it supposedly treats.
Weil's Web site says that "because the goal of acupuncture is to promote and restore the balance of energy, which flows throughout the body, it can be used for a wide variety of conditions."
The blurb goes on to list some of those conditions: anxiety, depression, Parkinson's disease, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, infertility, arthritis, strokes, migraines, fatigue, drug addictions and "overall well-being."
If only acupuncture worked as advertised, the country's health care costs would sure be at lot lower.
Maybe the three-year study -- funded by Coors beer -- will shed light on the benefits of alternative treatments.
In fact, with Dr. Weil selling vitamins and herbal supplements by the truckload, something tells us the study will tend to support his overall marketing schemes.
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