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It’s the tiniest drop in the bucket, but Alternative Healthcare Options (AHO) in Charlotte, NC, with its 5,000 members offers more than the average add-on rider for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. When AHO’s president and CEO Richard Dunn started the company three years ago, he knew there was a demand for CAM services under the umbrella of more traditional health care plans.
AHO sells a CAM rider to medium- to large-sized companies with self-insurance plans. "We know that two-thirds of members of health plans are very interested in CAM benefits, and we know that employers want to give their employees the best possible benefits — with an eye toward cost," says Dunn. His big selling points: out-of-pocket cost and increased productivity. "It’s not how much the benefit package costs; it’s how much it saves," Dunn says.
For example, a patient with carpal tunnel syndrome, over the course of this repetitive-motion-related problem, will cost $30,000 in medical expenses, including one or more surgeries at a cost of approximately $7,000. "We can use acupuncture and keep the employee at work for a lot less than $30,000. What’s $75 for an acupuncture treatment every three or four months compared to $30,000 — not to speak of lost time and disability benefits?" he asks.
AHO offers the services of licensed practitioners, including naturopathic physicians, as well as a mail-order herbal formulary and diagnostic laboratory work.
Dunn is a stickler for credentialing. The company sets criteria that are sometimes more stringent than state licensing regulations. For example, an acupuncturist must have completed 1,800 hours of education, have 1,000 hours of clinical practice, passed national exams, and use clean-needle techniques, as well as carry what the company considers an acceptable level of malpractice insurance.
Once a practitioner’s application is received, it is sent to a credentialing verification organization, fully accredited by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, where all information is verified. The site visits are conducted, and finally AHO repeats the process in-house to be sure of its accuracy. No referrals are required for a member to access the CAM benefits provided by AHO, although there is frequent contact between physicians and CAM practitioners.
"We want them to freely access these therapies," Dunn says. "We want them to use it extensively to get healthy and stay healthy."
[For more information, contact:
• Alternative Healthcare Options, Charlotte, NC. Telephone: (704) 905-5244. World Wide Web: www.aho-network.com/.]