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Health Law Boosts Status Of Alternative Medicine -- At Least On Paper

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Weeks said both lawmakers and the general public will soon have access to that research, including the amount of money saved by integrating other forms of medicine into the current health system.

But the challenges of introducing alternative care don’t stop with science.

Because under the health care law each state defines its essential benefits plan -- what is covered by insurance -- somewhat differently, the language concerning alternative medicine has to be very specific in terms of who gets paid and for what kinds of treatment, said Deborah Senn, the former insurance commissioner in Washington and an advocate for alternative medicine coverage.

She pointed out that California excluded coverage for chiropractic care in its essential benefits plan, requiring patients to pay out of pocket for their treatment. Senn thinks the move was most likely an oversight and an unfavorable one for the profession. Four other states -- Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Utah -- ruled the same way in the past year.

"That's just an outright violation of the law," she said, referring to the ACA clause.

Colorado and Oregon are in the process of changing that ruling to allow chiropractic care to be covered, according to researchers at Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care.

Some states, like Washington, are ahead of the rest of the country in embracing alternative practitioners. The Bastyr University system, where Guiltinan works, treats 35,000 patients a year with naturopathic medicine. Sixty percent of the patients billed insurance companies for coverage.

Guiltinan said a change in the system is not only a boon for alternative medicine doctors, but helps families of all income levels access care normally limited to out-of-pocket payment. That's why some alternative medicine aficionados like Rohit Kumar are hoping the law will increase the ability of his family -- and the larger community -- to obtain this kind of care. 

Kumar, a 26-year-old business owner in Los Angeles, said his parents and brothers have always used herbs and certain foods when they get sick, and regularly see a local naturopath and herbalist. He’s only used antibiotics once, he says, when he caught dengue fever on a trip to India.

While the Kumar family pays for any treatments they need with cash -- the only payment both alternative providers accept -- they also pay for a high-deductible health plan every month to cover emergencies, like when his brother recently broke his arm falling off a bike.

Paying for a conventional health care plan and maintaining their philosophy of wellness is not cheap.

"We pay a ridiculous amount of money every month," Kumar said of the high-deductible insurance. "And none of it goes toward any type of medicine we believe in."

Even so, he said the family will continue to practice a lifestyle that values wellness achieved without a prescription -- a philosophy that Guiltinan also adopted in her practice.

Wed, Jul 24 2013

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