Insurers offer coverage for alternative therapies

In response to a growing consumer demand and a potential financial windfall, insurers are starting to offer coverage of alternative therapies, according to an article in the March life/health edition ofBest's Review. Companies already offering alterntative medicine coverage include, Oxford Health Plans of Norwalk, CT, and San Mateo, CA-based American Western Life. Other health inusrance providers such as Bloomfield, CT-based Cigna HealthCare, also are considering some coverage of alternative medicine, including acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic treatment.

Federal legislation could spur further coverage of alternative treatments. For example, in 1995 Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced the Access to Medical Treatment Act, which will be reintroduced to the 105th Congress. The act would give individuals the right to access treatments that are not FDA approved, as long as there is no evidence that the treatments can cause harm, and the patient is informed of the risks. But one expert questions whether insurers nationwide will embrace coverage of alternative therapies. Michael Albanese, a vice president in the life/health division of A.M. Best, an insurance rating and information source that publishes Best's Review, says most coverage of alternative health care procedures has been from HMOs on the West Coast, and those HMOs continue to review each claim or procedure on a case-by-case basis.