My Reply To Providence

Just to keep everyone in the loop, here’s the reply I sent back to Providence today (in response to their earlier reply, discussed here).

Hi Robin,
Thanks for your reply. I understand the fact that your decision to not cover massage was a business decision – you believe that too many people utilizing low cost massage therapy services would not be cost effective to your company. However, the policy you sent me that explains the new chiropractor/massage rules makes it sound like the decision to not cover massage (beyond one 15-minute unit in conjunction with chiropractic) was a medical decision. Unfortunately, the logic you use to explain this “medical decision” is erroneous.

Specifically, I take issue with the declaration that “there is rarely a medical necessity for a one-hour, full-body massage”. Firstly, not all one-hour massages are, by default, full body massages. Roughly half of my clients on any given week only want me to work on their neck, shoulders, and upper back. I’ve spent a whole hour just working on someone’s left leg. If I could solve all of a client’s tension and pain problems in just 15 minutes, my job would be a lot easier.

Secondly, did anyone actually take a look at the massage research before making this claim? Massage therapy has been found to be beneficial for a large number of conditions, including pain relief during cancer treatment (cite), lower anxiety (cite), improved immune function (cite), decreased inflammation after working out (cite), and lower depression scores (cite). Not to mention all of the pain relief massage provides *without* the aid of chiropractic manipulation (cite).

In response to what I should tell my clients when they ask why their benefits don’t cover massage (even though my name comes up when they searched for covered providers), you placed the blame squarely on the members – “they can’t assume that because a provider is listed in our directory all services that the provider preforms [sic] are covered under their benefit package.” This might be a reasonable answer if I actually offered any services besides massage therapy. But since that’s all I offer, it stands to reason that if my name came up in a search, a member could safely presume that massage therapy is a covered service.

Finally, you offer the solution that members could just talk to their HR departments if they wanted an extra massage rider on their insurance policy. This completely overlooks the fact that they often already have an alternative care rider on the policy, one that specifically excludes massage. Again, I know that this is just a business decision, because there is no research that supports this distinction. In fact, research suggests that covering all complementary and alternative care would actually save insurance companies a lot of money in the long run (cite).

My point in replying to your email is to ask you to pay attention to facts, not assumptions, when making your business or medical decisions. You can say that not covering massage is a business decision, but when pressed for reasons, don’t give false claims about a lack of medical benefits. Tell your members clearly that their CAM rider doesn’t cover massage. And honestly, if you did your own research into cost-savings, you might find that covering massage (and other complementary medicine) may actually save money.

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