Insurance Coverage for Acupuncture, Alternative Therapies On the Rise

In response to consumers’ growing demand for greater control and more options in health care, many insurance companies across North America are taking a second look at their coverage of alternative therapies.

In the last year, the number of insurance companies offering some kind of coverage for alternative practices like acupuncture, chiropractic, and homeopathy have more than doubled.

In a September 7, 1997, report on CNNfn, CNN’s financial channel, consultants Coopers & Lybrand estimated the number of plans offering some type of alternative medicine coverage at 25. They noted that was an increase from just four plans offering such coverage in 1994.

A recent report on the World Wide Web site "Acupuncture.com," which maintains an updated list of companies that cover acupuncture, counted more than 56 plans across the country that offered such coverage and also noted that all health plans in the state of Nevada are now required to cover acupuncture.

In January of 1997, Oxford Health Plans made news by becoming the first major U.S. health provider to offer comprehensive coverage of alternative medicine at prenegotiated rates. Members of Oxford’s Alternative Medicine Program have access to acupuncturists, chiropractors, naturopathic physicians, nutritionists, massage therapists, and yoga instructors. The plan does not require a referral by a primary care physician. To be a provider in Oxford’s program, the practitioner must hold a professional license in the state they practice in, commit to continuing education in their discipline, demonstrate clinical expertise in two consecutive years of work experience, and undergo a site visit evaluation.

In a January 6, 1998, article for the Reuters news service, Oxford executive Hasaan Rifaat, MD, the person responsible for initiating the alternative medicine program, said an Oxford survey of its members indicated that 33% were already receiving some form of alternative care.

If a patient’s insurance does not cover acupuncture, a call to the plan’s marketing department might be the first step in getting the ball rolling, states the report on Acupuncture.com. Insurance companies are becoming increasingly sensitive to consumers’ needs because of the dollars they represent. Managed care companies are increasingly receptive to alternative therapies because they are often low-cost and low-risk.

To access Acupuncture.com’s list of plans that cover the procedure, point your browser to:

http://acupuncture.com/news/insuranc.htm.

The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture is an organization of physicians who have incorporated acupuncture into their practice. Their web site is devoted to offering information and resources to those physician members and to physicians who are interested in acupuncture. For more information: point your Web browser to: http://medicalacupuncture.org.