Your cousin tells you acupuncture has really helped her
migraines. Your sister swears by chiropractic for her stiff neck. You wouldn't
mind exploring some alternative therapies for a few of your own ailments, but
you're not crazy about the idea of paying for the treatments. Well, you might
not have to. Traditional insurance carriers are realizing that if they want to
keep their customers satisfied, they need to jump on the CAM
(complementary/alternative medicine) bandwagon themselves.
A 1998 study published in The Journal of the American
Medical Association reported that the use of alternative therapies in the
U.S. is on the rise. According to the report, 42% of adults used at least one
form of alternative medicine or therapy in 1997, spending more than $33
"We're always looking for the quick fix," says Rick
Gallion, director of complementary and alternative medicine for Blue Cross Blue
Shield of South Carolina (BCBSSC). "We need to rethink how we can help the
general public avoid disease."
A self-confessed "health nut," Gallion oversees
BCBSSC's Natural Blue program. Begun in January 1999, Natural Blue offers
policyholders discount fees for chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage services
provided by a network of BCBSSC-approved providers.
"We emphasize quality providers," says Gallion.
"There is a stringent qualifying process for the public's
Because Gallion believes that educating -- as well as
protecting -- the public is paramount, BSBSSC also includes information on
complementary and alternative medicine on its web site --
www.southcarolinablues.com -- where you can click on "natural blue" and
submit questions, as well as search for information on a variety of CAM
Since there are no claims to file with Natural Blue, Gallion
has no data on just how many people have taken advantage of the program. There
has been a lot of positive feedback, however, he says, and in the last three
months, the Natural Blue web site has received 27,000 visitors.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) is
another insurance carrier seeking to capitalize on its subscribers' interest in
alternative therapies. Alt Med Blue, a comprehensive alternative medicine
discount program, was begun in April 2000. North Carolina's program is more
extensive than South Carolina's Natural Blue -- with discounts offered not only
on acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage, but also on yoga, stress management,
personal trainers, fitness centers, spas, homeopathy, naturopathy, and
In announcing the program, BCBSNC's chief medical officer,
Robert Harris, MD, said that Alt Med Blue gives members a choice of services
that "promote good health."
As alternative medicine practitioners come up with more
"hard science" to back up their claims of effectiveness, insurance
carriers will be more likely to add coverage for these therapies, says Anna
Silberman, president and CEO of Lifestyle Advantage in Pittsburgh.