Insurance Companies Still at Odds with Naturopathic Medicine
Naturopathic medicine could be as old as Hippocrates himself, if you believe he originally came up with the idea of the body naturally healing itself. Officially, however, naturopathic medicine was not identified as an organized means of medical treatment until the late 19th century. That makes the official practice of naturopathy in the West more than 100 years old. So why are most insurance companies still at odds with this kind of medicine?
According to a 2015 investigation by U.S. News & World Report, there is very little hard data we can rely on past 2007. The data we do have suggests that very few health insurance providers are willing to cover naturopathic treatments en masse. Those that do offer coverage usually limit it to certain kinds of therapies including acupuncture and massage therapy.
The Affordable Care Act may provide some benefit by requiring health insurance companies to consider all forms of treatment without discrimination. In other words, an insurer cannot discriminate against naturopathic treatment provided by a licensed naturopath. But as U.S. News & World Report explains, requiring no discrimination of services is not the same thing as requiring health insurance companies to provide coverage. There are lots of exclusions to health insurance coverage – naturopathy just happens to be one of them.
People Still Want Care
As naturopathic practitioners, those of us with thriving practices are most fascinated by the fact that people still want care even when insurance companies will not cover it. Americans spent some $34 billion on alternative medical treatments in 2007 – all out of pocket and with no help from their insurance providers. Alternative medicine accounted for only 1.5% of total health care spending in that year, yet it accounted for more than 11% of the out-of-pocket expenses incurred by patients.
It is clear that Americans want access to naturopathy and other forms of alternative medicine. More and more, people are becoming frustrated by spending time and money on doctors only to be given prescription medications as the sole solution to their problems. More Americans understand that real wellness requires a holistic approach rather than the one-size-fits-all approach of Western medicine.
When Exceptions Are Made
Fairness dictates we mention the fact that some exceptions are made for certain patients seeking naturopathy or other alternative treatments. When exceptions are made, insurers often require patients to obtain some sort of statement outlining the medical necessity of the treatment being sought. Such statements normally come from medical doctors. Furthermore, any agreement by an insurance company to cover alternative medicine usually comes with limits.
Insurance companies are more favorable these days to things such as chiropractic, massage therapy, and acupuncture. They are still not willing to cover most of the still-emerging naturopathic therapies like platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, and others.
The fact that insurance companies are still at odds with naturopathic medicine presents patients with difficult choices. Given the amount of money people spend on health insurance, many are not at all comfortable with spending additional money on naturopathic treatments not covered by insurance. At the same time, they are also uncomfortable with the kind of care they are receiving through Western medicine. So what is a patient to do?
There are no easy answers for individual patients struggling to balance health needs with finances. However, if the eventual goal of healthcare reform is to give consumers maximum control over their healthcare decisions, it’s time we start paying more attention to naturopathic medicine. If that is what patients want, insurance companies need to respond more positively.