ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: CareFirst Takes the Plunge
Enrollees in health plans belonging to one of Maryland's largest insurers, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, are about to get a 25% discount on alternative care. Eric Baugh, the company's senior vice president for medical affairs and network management, said that beginning Jan. 1, the company will pick up 25% of all acupuncture, massage therapy and chiropractic services delivered to enrollees by a group of more than 400 practitioners. The promise covers enrollees in the company's FreeState Health Plan, Capital-Care HMO, Delmarva Health Plan and Preferred Health Network. In addition, the plans will offer 15% discounts with "selected personal trainers, fitness centers and day spas," the Baltimore Sun reports. Although members will not have to obtain a referral from their primary care physicians to utilize the discount, CareFirst will advise patients to discuss the treatment options with doctors. Baugh said the company moved to establish the plan after internal research revealed that 40% of its members already use alternative methods. He added that a Journal of the American Medical Association study last fall found that visits to alternative practitioners increased by 47% between 1990 and 1997. "There has been good clinical data shows that [alternative therapy] not only promotes health, but maintains health. We want to promote healthy lifestyles," Baugh said. He claims that CareFirst is the "first health insurance company in the mid- Atlantic region to offer a discount program with a certified group of providers." Aetna U.S. Healthcare offers a similar discount plan, but does not require "thorough credentialing," Baugh said (Crawford, 9/22).
Other health insurance companies are following the lead of CareFirst and Aetna. Rush-Prudential Health Plans, Chicago's third-largest insurer, will also offer member discounts of up to 25% on "a menu of some 200 alternative practitioners -- who provide therapies ranging from tai chi to Rolfing to massage," as well as biofeedback, herbal consultation and homeopathy. The company's premium prices will not increase, since the alternative healers have agreed to cut fees in the hope of attracting new customers (Jaspen, Chicago Tribune, 9/22).
The Magic Touch
Meanwhile, the Nevada State Board of Nursing last week decided to permit nurses to use "healing touch" therapy on patients. They may "perform complementary therapies that are noninvasive, nonchemical and have minimal risk of harm," such as aromatherapy or practices focused on the body's energy flow. Patients must provide consent for such methods (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/19). Experts say the "interest in alternative medicine is clearly consumer-driven," the Tribune reports (9/22).