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News: November 10, 2009

More Insurance Companies Are Paying For Alternative Medicine

November 10, 2009

Alternative medicine which was once thought to be controversial and experimental is now gaining newfound respect within the medical community. In fact so much respect that more insurance companies are beginning to pay for alternative medicine.

More and more doctors trained in Western medicine are allowing alternative therapies are beginning to understand the power of alternative medicine and are attempting to blend Eastern and Western medicine.

These appears to be one of the last frontiers for moving alternative medicine into the mainstream, advocates of alternative medicine say and many are pushing to require or expand coverage as part of healthcare reform.

Choice has always been a great idea but critics fear that it may lead people to use remedies that have not been approved. It also can mean the people who use those treatments will end up paying for them, rather than have their insurer pay for proven remedies.

Currently, insurance companies cover a very narrow range of alternative services for specific conditions where there is evidence of value, such as chiropractors for some types of back pain. Keep in mind though that these services are marketed for many other uses that "lack such proof", such as chiropractic treatments for asthma or ear infections, and acupuncture for high blood pressure or insomnia.

Most insurance companies won't pay insurers for herbals and dietary supplements because they are of unproven safe by the FDA. Amazingly some insurance companies, like Aetna, allow certain sellers to advertise supplements to its members, which can imply a benefit and coverage. Kaiser Permanente's HMO carries many supplements in its pharmacies and allows its network doctors to "prescribe" ones that it then sells to members, who pay the full cost leading the consumer to believe it was paid for.

"We're not suggesting you buy this. But if you buy this, here is a place to get it safely," said R. Douglas Metz, a chiropractor who is chief health services officer of American Specialty Health Inc., of San Diego.

It is the largest of about half a dozen firms that provide complementary and alternative medicine services to insurers, employers and individuals. Like an HMO, it has 15,000 chiropractors, 6,000 acupuncturists, 6,000 massage therapists and others in its network. About 13 million Americans are covered or eligible to use its services, including Durnford-Branecki, who works for the firm.

Aetna which became one of its customers about two years ago in a newsletter told members they could get at least a 15 percent discount and free shipping on more than 2,400 health and wellness products offered through American Specialty, including vitamin and herbal supplements, aromatherapy products and homeopathic remedies.

So after years and years of debate and Americans demanding more choice, insurance companies are beginning to see the benefit and some are either offering a discount or paying for alternative medicine.



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