Holistic Health Care Your Insurance Will Cover

Osteopathy is a branch of Western medicine that incorporates alternative perspectives—and is often covered by medical plans


| September-October 2001



For most of us, health professionals fall into two categories: those whose services our insurance will cover, and those we’ve got to pay out of our own pockets. For folks interested in holistic health care or integrative medicine, the blending of nontraditional therapies with more mainstream approaches, treating an illness can be a costly undertaking.

So what’s an informed—and budget-minded—health care consumer to do? A number of possible solutions come to mind, including winning the lottery, waging a successful revolution against insurance companies, or finding yourself a good osteopath.

Clearly, the first two solutions aren’t likely to pan out anytime soon. So then, if you’re like most people, you’re left wondering, “What in the heck is an osteopath? And how could one help me?”

Osteopathy, a practice of medicine based on the manipulation of bones and muscles, was first promoted in 1874 by Kansas physician A.T. Still, and the first school of osteopathy opened at Kirksville, Missouri in 1892. Now licensed to practice in all 50 states, osteopaths believe that displaced bones, nerves, and muscles are at the root of many ailments. Doctors of osteopathy, or D.O.’s, undergo the same level of training that M.D.’s do. They can prescribe medicine and perform surgeries, and, like M.D.’s, often select a specialized area of practice, such as neurology, internal medicine, pediatrics, or obstetrics/gynecology. Most insurance companies cover their services. (This is also true of chiropractors, some of whom pursue a holistic approach to health care.)

So what sets osteopaths apart from your run-of-the-mill M.D.? It’s all in the integration, writes Jonn Salovaara in the Chicago natural-living monthly Conscious Choice (June 2001): “Since the founding of osteopathy, its practitioners have integrated the best medical wisdom of the day with their own manual adjustment methods. Today, you may find an osteopath who embodies, as a single physician, a fairly wide range of complementary practices.”

These practices include acupuncture and gentle soft tissue and joint manipulation, known as osteopathic manipulation techniques, or OMT. However, only a small percentage of modern osteopaths (some sources say as little as 6 percent) use OMT on a majority of their patients. Most visits with an osteopath may seem strikingly similar to a visit with an M.D., says Janet Horan, assistant director of socioeconomic affairs for the American Osteopathic Association. The difference is in an osteopath’s approach to treating disease.