The new health care bill before Congress may force mainstream health insurance providers to cover alternative health care practices, such as acupuncture, massage, naturopathy and chiropractics. Currently, the vast majority of health insurance providers offer only limited coverage for “alternative” health care techniques and therapies, forcing most Americans to pay for them out of pocket. Current estimates put the amount Americans spend on alternative health care at $34 billion, a figure that is expected to grow in the coming years.
Alternative Medicine Not Always Covered
America’s health insurance providers offer services on a state-by-state basis. If a state mandates that a certain technique or therapy be covered by health insurance companies then they must cover it – but this applies only to health insurance offered by employers, not health insurance obtained privately. Most states require insurance carriers to cover breast-cancer examinations, for example, but only a handful (11, according to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance) require insurance providers to cover acupuncture therapy. California is one state where health insurance providers must cover acupuncture, chiropractics, and other so-called alternative medicine therapies and products.
Health Care Reform
The new health care reform bill currently being debated in Congress contains a provision that could change all that. A specific provision of H. R. 3590, as the health bill is called, could make health care providers cover alternative medicine techniques anywhere that these techniques are licensed by state regulatory agencies. In stipulating that health insurance companies cannot discriminate against licensed state providers, it’s highly likely that insurance companies will have to offer all licensed services under their terms of coverage. Given the nature of House and Senate negotiations regarding reconciliation of their respective health care bills, it’s not clear that the provision will be in the final bill signed into law. If it is, then time will tell how alternative medicine coverage fares under the new law. People with questions regarding alternative medical coverage offered by their health insurance provider should seek clarification with an insurance representative.
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