Today more Americans than ever are taking advantage of complementary and alternative therapies like massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and eastern medicine as a way to help manage or prevent many health conditions. As demand has grown for healthcare coverage of alternative treatments, more health insurance providers offer complementary and alternative care coverage, with plans varying by provider.
So if you’ve been paying out-of-pocket for massage treatments to relax and relieve stress, or to a chiropractor to relieve back pain and have been, you may be flushing money down the drain. If your current provider doesn’t offer coverage, now may be a good time to shop for health insurance that does.
What is Complementary and Alternative Therapy?
Complementary medicine is used as an alternative to traditional medicine, which typically involves medical doctors, registered nurses, physical therapists, and other health professionals along with conventional, prescribed drugs.
The National Institutes of Health's Office of Alternative Medicine classified alternative therapy into the following seven categories:
- Diet and nutrition - use of specific foods, vitamins, and minerals to prevent illness and to treat disease
- Alternative systems of medical practice - use of medicine from another culture (e.g., Ayurvedia, Chinese medicine)
- Herbal medicine - use of plants as medicine
- Mind-body interventions - use of the mind to enhance health (e.g., hypnosis, meditation, yoga)
- Manual healing methods - use of the hands to promote healing (e.g., massage, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation)
- Pharmacologic and biologic treatments - use of various substances (e.g., drugs, serums) to treat specific medical problems
- Bioelectromagnetic therapy - use of electrical currents or magnetic fields to promote healing (e.g., bone repair, electroacupuncture)
Shopping for Complementary and Alternative Therapy Coverage
Whether you’re shopping for a new healthcare policy that provides alternative therapy coverage, or wonder what may be available from your current policy, the following are tips of what to look for:
- The basics – find out what is covered. The choice of one health care provider over another may depend on how and what they cover in terms of alterative therapy. If you’re in need of chiropractic care, that may be your priority versus a policy that has strong coverage for acupuncture.
- Limits on treatments. It’s rare that you find a policy that offers unlimited treatments, whether it’s for acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic. Some limit treatments of one type to 35 while others are lower at 12, and still others limit the number of combined treatments annually.
- In-network versus out-of-network. Check to see if you are required to use in-network practitioners. Otherwise, you’ll be back to paying out-of-pocket or switching to a new practitioner that’s covered.
- Deductibles and co-pays. It’s important to understand if alternative therapy treatments and visits require a co-pay or if your health plan is subject to a policy deductible before coverage is provided. If the latter applies, be aware that you may have to pay up hundreds of dollars in of out-of-pocket expenses before coverage kicks in.
Evolution of Health Insurance
If you look back to just ten years ago, you’ll see that health insurance plans have evolved. More and more, health care providers are covering yoga, meditation sessions, chiropractic, massage, acupuncture and other forms of alternative therapy because they’ve seen how these treatments help keep their members healthy and potentially avoid more expensive and painful treatments, including surgery.
This is good news for you, because you have more choices than ever.
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