There was a great article on acupuncture in the New York Times last week. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine is on its way to becoming mainstream in this country. However, don’t count of your health insurance to foot the bill, which was the point of the article.
The reality is that some health insurance plans do cover acupuncture, but most do not. Another reality is that many acupuncture practitioners have chosen not to accept health insurance payments for their services. And for good reasons, too, such as wanting to get paid for their time, not spending their office hours mired in paperwork, and not wanting to participate in a “health care system” that fundamentally operates at a conflict of interest. (It’s about money, not your health.)
Yesterday, I received an email from one of our professional organizations offering a whole host of continuing education seminars on insurance billing, coding, and the like. I ask you, if you were my patient, would you rather I spent my professional development time studying how to bill insurance companies or how to better treat the people who come to me to improve their health?
The article talked about what to do if your insurance doesn’t pay for acupuncture. Good question, but when you compare the cost of an acupuncture visit (generally $60-$120 a session) to that of a doctor’s visit, medical tests, and treatments (the $ky is the limit), we’re talking about peanuts. Really, the cost of an acupuncture treatment in some cases is about that of the co-pay for your doctor’s visit.
Despite the fact that acupuncture is not regularly on the insurance radar, many people are still choosing to go the Chinese medicine route because it works, it’s cost effective, and many patients want to avoid drugs or surgery—or many have tried drugs or surgery and are still suffering.
So how, then do you afford regular acupuncture treatments? I once had a chiropractor tell me, “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way to pay for it”. Sorry, I’m not on board with that attitude. You shouldn’t go broke trying to afford your acupuncture treatments, and there are options. Some thoughts (both from me and from the NY Times article) include:
- Acupuncture is covered by Flexible Spending plans through your work and most Health Savings Accounts. If you don’t have either, check them out.
- Most large cities have acupuncture schools, and every licensed acupuncturist must fulfill a number of hours in the teaching clinic. The school teaching clinics generally offer acupuncture treatments for about half the price of those of licensed practitioners.
- Community-style acupuncture clinics have popped up in most large cities and now in smaller towns, too. Community clinics treat patients in loungers in one large room, rather than on a table in a private room. Their prices are reduced or are on a sliding scale. I have had a former patient (very nicely) rave about the community clinic she now visits.
- Ask your acupuncturist about treatment packages, in which you buy a number of treatments up front for a reduced price. Also ask about family or senior discounts.
- If you own your own business, ask about bartering for services. Some individual practitioners may be willing to trade acupuncture treatments for massages, carpentry, eggs, or whatever. You won’t know if you don’t ask.
Personally, I have never turned down a patient who was unable to pay for my acupuncture treatments. I believe that this ancient medicine offers so much to the future of health care—it should be available to all.