Holistic therapies such as acupuncture and shiatsu massage are becoming as mainstream and routine as a trip to the dentist. But getting adequate insurance coverage for such treatments is anything but the norm. As Emily Dulcan reports for Conscious Choice, somewhere between one third and one half of the nearly $50 billion Americans spend on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) a year are out-of-pocket expenses.
Alternative Medicine explains that insurance companies have typically shied away from approving CAM claims because of a lack of studies testing the efficacy of the treatments. Efforts are underway, however, to remove that roadblock. Both the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the state of Washington are currently working to bolster holistic medicine with further studies of the field. And a few inroads are being made on the coverage front. Dulcan reports that in Washington 'every state-regulated insurance plan must cover some number of licensed alternative practitioners.' In other states, some insurers now offer partial benefits or discounts -- as with Aetna and Kaiser Permanente -- but coverage is often limited and more expensive. In the case of Blue Shield of California, the decision of whether employees will have to pay extra for holistic coverage rests on the employer.
While there are a growing number of insurers offering some coverage, their numbers are still few and finding them can be a daunting task. Enter Alternative Health Insurance Services, an innovative company that helps match folks up with group insurance plans that accept claims for alternative therapies. For founder Steve Gorman, this approach isn't just about offering alternatives; it's about saving money. 'If you can prevent somebody from getting a major illness, even if it costs a little more on the front end… that would save tons and tons of money, rather than waiting until someone has a disease and then treating it.' Such cost efficiency, Alternative Medicine explains, is rooted in holistic medicine's focus on disease prevention, rehabilitation, and the elimination of the need for costly pain medications and further procedures.
Although the process has been slow, Alternative Medicine reports that 'insurance companies are beginning to capitalize on the popularity of natural alternatives, and consumers are starting to reap the benefits.' Dulcan adds that more research should shore up support from insurance companies and streamline the benefits for customers.
Fostering a more direct relationship between holistic and conventional practitioners might also help. Alternative Medicine reports that Northern Ireland is currently breaking new ground with a program that allows mainstream doctors to refer patients directly to CAM health centers. 'Such melding of mainstream medicine with alternative therapies,' Alternative Medicine reports, 'is a definite boon for patients who want to take better care of themselves naturally and paves the way for insurance companies to provide more consistent coverage.'
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