Should alternative therapy be covered by health insurance?


Fact Box

  • Although often grouped together, complementary medicine differs from alternative medicine in that the former is used along with traditional Western or allopathic medicine, while the latter is used instead of it. 
  • The alternative treatment most often covered by big insurance companies is chiropractic care, with 91% offering some reimbursement for services.
  • The Mayo Clinic lists the following alternative therapies as potentially helpful in providing relief from cancer signs and symptoms: acupuncture, aromatherapy, exercise, hypnosis, massage, meditation, music therapy, relaxation techniques, tai chi, and yoga.
  • In 2021, the average health insurance premium in the US costs “$495 per month, with an average annual deductible of $5,940.”

Sheryll (No)

Research has shown that most forms of alternative therapy are not nearly as beneficial as conventional methods of treatment. Although many people have indeed had some success with alternative medicines, it must be acknowledged that many of these findings are anecdotal and cannot be compared to evidence-based medicine. If these therapies were as effective as is claimed, they would no longer be called 'alternative medicine,' but rather, just 'medicine.' Therefore, health insurance companies should prioritize allocating their funds to treatments that have been proven to work.

Another thing to note is that most alternative treatments, and the doctors who administer them, are not subject to the same standards and regulations as conventional treatments. This means it is usually up to the patient to decide if their practitioner is, in fact, qualified and will conduct treatment in a way that is acceptable to them. This is alarming, as alternative therapies are often notorious for doing more harm than good to a patient. For instance, in the case of cancer treatments, individuals who use alternative medicines in place of conventional treatments are known to have a significantly higher mortality risk. 

There are significant health risks involved in allowing insurance companies to fund treatments that have not been thoroughly researched. Of course, individuals should have the right to turn to alternative medicine if they can afford it. However, unless scientific evidence supports that a particular therapy effectively treats an illness or condition, these treatments should not be readily available to everyone who may be interested in them.

Bre (Yes)

Several alternative therapies have been proven effective, with worldwide research further establishing their benefits. Alternative and complementary medicines have yet to be adequately integrated into the US medical system, but their documented expanding popularity fuels the ongoing public demand for such measures. As it stands, insurance coverage for such therapies varies from state to state, and when offered, it is typically limited to unrealistically low appointment allowance and additional costs.

However, many countries have begun implementing guidelines to better integrate alternative therapies with mainstream practices, which speaks to their efficacy. The World Health Organization recognizes homeopathic treatments are heavily used in over 80 nations--more than 20 of which formally acknowledge alternative medicine’s benefits. Multiple international examples exhibit a functional coexistence of conventional and alternative models. With increasing evidence-based support, countries like Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the UK, and more have begun to move away from relying solely on standard medication, favoring more natural solutions.

Roughly 20% of Americans feel the health care system needs improvement, with nearly the entire remaining percentage believing a full revamp is in order. About 40% of adults in the US seek alternative, complementary, and natural therapies outside the standard health system. These practices actually receive more annual visitors than conventional medicine offices, with patients spending tens of billions out-of-pocket annually for non-traditional alternatives.

Insurance is intended to provide what patients need; the cost and purpose justify offering a good range of treatment options to individuals who seek them. Legitimized by research, demanded by consumers, and shown to impact health care systems for the better, alternative medicine is a valuable asset to comprehensive treatment and should therefore be covered by basic medical insurance.

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