I’m often asked by prospective new clients whether myofascial release is covered by private health insurance.
My usual answer is that they need to ask their health insurer. This is because different insurance companies take very different, and sometimes contradictory, approaches. For example, a multinational insurance company may cover their US client under a US policy to receive myofascial release treatment from a complementary therapist in the UK but will not cover their UK client for the same treatment.
If that’s not confusing enough, most insurers in the UK don’t cover the common complementary therapies – unless, that is, they are performed by a “medical practitioner”. In other words, the insurance company accepts the therapy as a valid treatment but will only pay for it when it’s practised by a non-specialist in that therapy!
Among research on the NHS’s evidence website is a 2013 report by Arthritis Research UK which quotes government figures showing that in 2005 over £450 million was spent on complementary and alternative medicine in the UK. In the general population 26% of respondents had used such treatments in the past year, rising to 51% among those experiencing pain.
Despite this, according to the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), the only insurers that currently recognise complementary therapies delivered by complementary therapists are Westfield Health and Health Shield.
The CNHC is the UK voluntary register of complementary therapists. It is approved by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA). This throws up another anomaly. BUPA, for example, has said that a) they support the work of the PSA to accredit registers such as the CNHC and b) they may be willing “in time” to change their cover criteria. Despite this, there’s no sign of that BUPA is moving towards recognition of the twelve complementary therapies listed by the CNHC. Other insurance companies lump complementary therapies in with unlicensed drugs, calling them “experimental treatments” and refusing to pay out to policyholders, even when the therapies and the therapists fulfill the companies’ own criteria for cover. And even when those same insurance companies will offer therapists professional liability insurance for practising those therapies!
These distinctions and the anomalies they create are increasingly out of step with regulatory practice and with consumer demand. The insurers are confusing their own customers and leaving them frustrated with the lack of choice their policies offer. Consumers are justified in asking their insurance company why their choice of therapy and specialist practitioner is excluded from cover.
As one client said to me recently, “What’s the point of health insurance then?”