Remarks of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA,) at the CAM Commissioner Swearing-in

Remarks of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA,)
at the CAM Commissioner Swearing-in


Remarks of U. S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa (202) 224-3254
July 13, 2000
Contact: Jennifer Frost/
Shannon Tesdahl
Remarks of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA,)
at the CAM Commissioner Swearing-in

The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy will provide legislative and administrative recommendations to the President and Congress to assure that public policy maximizes the benefits to Americans of appropriate use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).


Harkin, long-time champion of improved research and freedom to choose alternative therapies, worked through the LHHS Appropriations subcommittee to establish the then Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 1991 to investigate and validate alternative therapies. In 1998, Harkin sponsored successful legislation to elevate the Office to the new National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at NIH to improve research and consumer information in this growing area.


"Thanks, Bruce, for that kind introduction. I'd also like to recognize Secretary Shalala and our President and First Lady for their great work on behalf of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. No other administration has taken such a comprehensive look at the potential of CAM or worked so hard to improve the quality of health care available to all Americans.


"And thanks to the commissioners and to each of you for your commitment to quality health care. It's been said that in times of great change, there are two kinds of leaders: Those who usher out the old and are called pallbearers, and those who usher in the new and are called torchbearers. This is truly a room full of torchbearers, and I'm proud to be with you today.


"We are here today because of consumers. Over 40 million Americans regularly use some form of alternative treatment or therapy. In 1997, Americans made 629 million visits to CAM providers: that's more than the number of visits they made to primary care physicians. And studies show that Americans spend approximately $27 billion for alternative therapies, mostly out of pocket.


"Now, ten years ago, when I first started working on this issue, things were very different. Studies showed that a lot of people were using CAM remedies, but no one was talking about it. It was often publicly dismissed as quackery, and the medical community frowned upon it.


"I knew that I wanted to bring CAM out into the open. I wanted to provide for research and examination. That's why I used my position as Chair of the Subcommittee that funds health research to allot $2 million to start the first ever Office of Alternative Medicine at NIH.


"We've come a long way since then. Today, 60% of physicians have referred. patients to CAM practitioners. Today, 64% of U.S. medical schools offer courses in CAM. And today, 80% of medical students and 70% of family physicians want training in CAM therapies.


"The $2 million Office of Alternative Medicine is now the $100 million National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Of course, that's still less than one half of 1% of the total NIH budget. But it's a good start.


"More and more medical-pioneers like Dr. Jim Gordon are integrating alternative medicine with mainstream practices. More and more medical schools like the University of Iowa are teaching alternative medicine right along with conventional medicine.


"This is just what Americans are looking for. They want less invasive, less expensive, less impersonal medical treatment. They want remedies that are safe, holistic, and affordable. They want to be involved in their own health care. They want medical practitioners to listen to them and to think of them as a whole person, not just an entity with an illness. Most of all, they want medicine that works, whether it's old or new, run-of-the-mill or out-in-left-field, traditional or alternative.


"And we've got an obligation to help. We're making good progress on one side of the equation. Over the past decade, NCCAM has funded ground-breaking, studies on therapies ranging from acupuncture to Ginkgo biloba to Melatonin to St. John's Wort to treat illnesses ranging from Osteoarthritis to Alzheimer's to sleep disorders to depression.


"But research is only half the battle. Scientific breakthroughs can't get far when they have to fight their way through a jungle of outdated public policy. It's time the government caught up with the people.


"That is why I provided funding to create this Commission. We need your expertise and recommendations on how to change administrative procedures and legislation. We need your advice on how to best integrate CAM practices into mainstream medicine and training. On whether students being trained in CAM practices should be eligible for the same loans and grants we give to conventional medical students. On whether current licensing and accreditation standards for CAM fields are appropriate. On what incentives we can create to increase private sector support for research on natural products, many of which aren't patentable. And on whether CAM therapies should be covered or subsidized by the government and private plans.

"And let me be clear, this Commission does not answer to NIH or anyone else. This is a White House Commission formed to answer to the American people.

"And my intent is to make this process as open as possible. You've got to talk to Americans. Solicit their ideas, listen to their complaints and take their advice so that we can best meet their needs. Again, I thank this administration for its work to advance CAM research and public policy, and I look forward to working with the Commission in the coming months."


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