Alternative Medicine Goes Mainstream

Getting Coverage for Alternative Medicince

Insurance Coverage for Alternative Medicine

Though popular with the masses, alternative medicine has yet to be embraced by health insurers. In his 1987 testimony to the U.S. Senate, Dr. David Eisenberg described a patient who defined it as "therapies I have had to pay for out of pocket."

That statement still sums up how often alternative medicine users are reimbursed by their insurance companies.

"It goes round and round," says Jahnke. "As an acupuncturist back in the '80s, probably 60 percent of my charges were reimbursed by insurance companies. But by the end of the '80s it was down again...And now there are what they call discount networks that are being contracted by insurance companies to provide, not reimbursed services, but discounted services."

Dr. Vasant Lad is director of the Ayurveda Institute in Albuquerque, NM. Although he says Ayurvedic services are as popular as "hot cakes," insurance companies do not reimburse for them.

John Weeks is editor and publisher of the newsletter, The Integrator for the Business of Alternative Medicine. He says, "From a consumer perspective, despite the increased interest, most payments are cash out of pocket."

He added that there's been a trend over the past three years toward discounted access, in which the consumer pays a reduced rate and has the reassurance that the provider has met the insurance company's criteria. The modalities most often covered are chiropractic, massage, acupuncture and naturopathy.

Power to the Patient

The real news about the growth of alternative medicine in the West is a shifting of responsibility from the doctor to the patient, says Jahnke. He says the key is "the revelation that 'Oh, you mean I can do something? And I can do it at home for free?'...The real breakthrough that's happening in health care right now is that we're realizing the client, the customer, the patient can also do something.

"In fact, if you do something in a timely way, you might not need to be a patient."