Natural Therapies Removed In Effort To Slow Private Health Insurance Cost Increases

Finance Journalist · 21 March 2019

A number of natural therapies ranging from naturopathy to yoga will no longer be eligible for coverage by private health insurers from 1 April, 2019. So, what exactly is changing and what natural therapies will still be covered?

What are the changes to natural therapies?

As part of its private health insurance overhaul, the Federal Government has removed cover for 16 natural therapies from the definition of private health insurance general treatment. This means private health insurers will not be able to offer benefits for these particular natural therapies.

The following natural therapies have been scrapped:

  • Alexander technique: an educational process that retrains posture and movement.
  • Aromatherapy: the use of essential oils in an effort to improve emotional and physical wellbeing.
  • Bowen therapy: a remedial technique that gently works on the connective tissue of the body, which proponents claim can bring about self-healing.
  • Buteyko: a breathing technique aimed at treating asthma and other breathing conditions.
  • Feldenkrais: an exercise therapy that uses mindful movement, which is claimed to bring awareness and improve movement, sensation, posture and breathing.
  • Western herbalism: the use of plants to treat and prevent disease, based on herbal traditions in some European and American countries.
  • Homeopathy: a pseudoscientific practice that involves administering diluted substances that mimic the symptoms of disease to stimulate the body’s healing response.
  • Iridology: a technique that involves examining a patient’s iris to evaluate their overall health.
  • Kinesiology: a therapy that uses muscle monitoring to find imbalances in the body and relieve them.
  • Naturopathy: a holistic treatment that incorporates a range of techniques such as nutrition, herbalism and homeopathy, which advocates claim can help the body heal itself.
  • Pilates: exercise designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles.
  • Reflexology: massaging the feet in an attempt to release ‘blockages’ and promote wellness in other parts of the body.
  • Rolfing: a technique that involves manipulating the connective tissue and soft tissue to improve balance in the body by aligning its ‘energy field’ with the Earth’s gravitational pull.
  • Shiatsu: Japanese massage technique that applies pressure to specific points of a patient’s body.
  • Tai chi: Chinese martial art that involves gentle movement to exercise the body and clear the mind.
  • Yoga: ancient Indian philosophy that is popular today as a form of exercise and for stress management.

What natural therapies will still be available?

Only the natural therapies listed above will be excluded from 1 April 2019. Other therapies such as remedial massage, myotherapy, acupuncture, Chinese medicine and exercise physiology are not affected by the reforms and may still be offered under private health insurance. If you’re interested in any of these treatments, it could be a good idea to check with your insurer what is and isn’t covered by your policy.

According to the Federal Government, insurers will still also be able to offer incentives to policyholders involving the excluded natural therapies (e.g. a voucher for a particular therapy as an incentive or bonus for becoming a member) as long as the incentive meets the private health insurance rules. Additionally, consumers can still access the excluded natural therapies outside the private health insurance system, but they will need to bear the full cost of the service.

Acupuncture natural therapies reforms
Source: Juri Pozzi (Shutterstock)

Why are these health insurance changes happening?

The decision to cut some natural therapies was made in light of a review by the National Health and Medical Research Council. It found that there was no clear evidence of the effectiveness of the listed natural therapies.

The government has said that one of the main aims of its reforms is to make private health insurance more affordable. An ACCC report, released in November 2018, found that Australians are increasingly downgrading or ditching their policies due to rising premium costs. By scrapping certain natural therapies, the government hopes this will help to drive down premiums.

What else is included in the health insurance reforms?

A major part of the reforms is the introduction of a tiered product system. It will mean hospital policies must be classified as either Gold, Silver, Bronze or Basic. Insurers have one year from 1 April, 2019 to implement these tiers for all products.

In addition, each tier will have certain clinical categories which it is required to cover as a minimum. For example, all Silver tier policies must cover dental surgery and Gold tier policies must cover pregnancy and birth.

Another important change is that insurers will be able to permit customers to choose higher excesses for hospital treatment. The Government says the aim of this reform is to reduce premium prices and encourage more people to take out private health insurance.

To find out more about the reform changes, click here.

Image Source: Prostock-studio (Shutterstock)

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