Does Transcendental Meditation Save on Long-Term Medical Costs?

The purpose of this study was to find out whether transcendental meditation intervention can reduce the medical care costs among the section of the population that spends the most on medical care. The variation in the rate of medical expenditure with time (in years) was compared with that for non-practitioners of this meditation technique. During the assessment period of five years, the annual rate of medical expenditure showed a decreasing trend in the transcendental meditation group. There were no significant changes in the non-practitioners group.

Increasing medical expenses are a cause of concern. In most populations, a small fraction of people account for the majority of healthcare expenses. In United States, the highest-spending 10 percent of the general population and 25 percent of seniors accounted for 60 to 70 percent and 85 percent of total medical expenses annually, respectively. Stress is one of the major reasons for the chronic health problems of this high-cost population. Reduction of stress by means of meditation could reduce medical care expenses. The study was aimed at examining whether there were any differences in the annual rate of medical expenses between people who participated in transcendental meditation and non-practitioners in the high cost populations.

* The study included participants from the province of Quebec, Canada, who had enrolled in Quebec health insurance.
* Participants enrolled in the study included 142 transcendental meditation participants (42 men and 100 women with mean age of 46 years) and 142 non-practitioners (35 males and 107 females with mean age of 46 years). The transcendental meditation group included in the study had practiced meditation 15 to 20 minutes twice daily for an average of five years.
* Payments made by the Quebec government to physicians among the different groups were considered as the measure for medical expenditure. Analyses were carried out using the data available with the Quebec government health insurance agency between 1981 and 1994.
* Physician expenses were normalized for inflation and consumer price index to make the data comparable. Physician expenses one year before the commencement of transcendental meditation practice were considered as the baseline.

Results/Key findings
* Physician expenses before the commencement of transcendental meditation intervention were not much different between the transcendental meditation and non-practitioners groups.
* No significant variation in the physician expenses was found in the non-practitioners group over the period of five years.
* A steady decrease in physician expenses was observed for the transcendental meditation group after transcendental meditation intervention. An 11 percent decrease was observed in the first year and 28 percent cumulative decrease was observed at the end of five years.

Next steps/Shortcomings
Payment to physician (which contributes to only 20 percent of the total annual health expenses) was extrapolated to annual medical costs. Other medical costs incurred in hospitalization, medication, surgery and medical testing were not included in the study due to non-availability of data. The study examined only the highest medical spending category of the population and therefore the inferences obtained cannot be generalized to the normal population. Therefore, further studies and randomized trials need to be conducted in future.

The study provides clear and conclusive evidence that practicing meditation techniques reduces medical expenses among those individuals who spend high amounts on medical expenses. The results of the study are in agreement with other reported literature that suggests that practicing meditation reduces medical expenses among working population, and reduced rates of illness. It also supports the hypotheses that transcendental meditation reduced duration of hospitalization, improved the overall health status, decreased tobacco use and other unhealthy practices. Though the study results could not be generalized for the normal population, meditation intervention on the high-spending population does help in decreasing the total healthcare expenditure.

For More Information:
Changes in Physician Costs among High-Cost Transcendental Meditation Practitioners Compared With High-Cost Nonpractitioners Over Five Years
Publication Journal: American Journal of Health Promotion, September 2011
By Robert E. Herron, PhD; Center for Health Systems Analysis, Fairfield, Iowa


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