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Why Isn’t Massage Therapy covered by insurance?

Consumers spend billions of dollars a year visiting massage therapists. In fact, studies show that patients make more visits each year to alternative care practitioners than to primary care physicians.

A survey by the Office of Alternative Medicine found more than a half of conventional physicians in the U.S. have recommended or tried alternative medicine. An osteopathic doctor here in Murrieta, CA, Laurie Blanscet, believes that massage therapy for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue is invaluable. For general aches and pains, it is more effective than medicine and other therapies. She says, “I wish massage therapy was reimbursed because it is so effective. I think that doctors should be able to order massage as readily as say, physical therapy.”

So why isn’t massage reimmbursed?

Some believe insurance companies look at massage as frivolous. Others say it’s all in the name of business, and that massage therapy isn’t cost effective for insurance companies. “Insurance companies invest millions to make money for themselves,” said an occcupational therapist I know. She said that “local medical professionals have two or three people working primamrily to harass insurance companies until they pay.”

Progress has been made in California through the passage of the law that will allow a governing body composed of bodyworkers, instructors and other experts to certify massage therapists. This is a radical change from the on-going city by city massage ordinances governed by police that know little about the field. With statewide credentialing, it should be easier for insurance companies to understand, value and reimburse for massage therapy and other bodywork.

The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine says it’s time for wellness and health promotion to be made a national health priority. The commission’s goal is to make sure health care be chosen not by whether it is cost effective for insurance companies, but rather on the basis of quality, effectiveness and need.


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