I hear that statement quite frequently, usually as a client is paying for a session. But honestly, if health insurers decided to cover massage services tomorrow, I would not accept insurance payment. You may be asking, “Why not?” The reason is not because I think that health insurance shouldn’t cover massage services. It’s because I wouldn’t want anyone other than my clients to determine If, When or How Frequently they are able to get massage.
Having your massages covered by health insurance sounds wonderful. It seems logical that the insurance companies would want to cover massage. Most clients I see get massage as a way to prevent injuries, pains and stress associated with the activities of everyday life. But the reality is that once a third party is paying for the service, that party then has a say in whether or not the service is medically necessary.
While the health industry is trying to move toward a model of prevention, the focus is still very much on treatment of disease. What is considered preventive care, is not preventive so much as it is “early detection”. Health insurers will cover things such as mammograms and colonoscopies as a means to prevent catastrophic disease. However, if you go to your chiropractor to prevent back pain, chances are the claim will be denied. If you hurt your back, they will cover a certain number of visits for treatment of an injury. But most health insurers don’t pay for preventive or maintenance visits.
The rules for what a health insurance company will or will not cover have gotten so complex. Many health care providers must hire billing specialists simply to get paid for normal services. I know many physical therapists, chiropractors, and even my own primary care doctor, who have moved to a “concierge” style of practice. In this case the patient pays directly for services rendered. The patient then submits documentation to their insurance company for reimbursement. The good news is that consumers are learning more about the details of their health coverage and are demanding reform. But until major reform happens, I will steer clear of the insurance game and continue to allow my clients to determine why, when and how often they come for massage.