Why are Insurance Companies Anti-Massage?

A Perspective on Healthcare Reform and Massage

I watched an interesting program on PBS the other night about health care reform. There were representatives from different areas, including an MD, a hospital administrator, professors, lawyers, and a representative from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida (BCBS).

While watching, something interesting struck my attention. The first topic which everyone on the panel agreed upon, was that wellness and prevention are key to getting people healthy and controlling costs in the system. In fact, the representative from BCBS was quite adamant about it.

What is so hypocritical and ironic about this? Let’s look at just one example using high blood pressure and heart disease as the example.

Cardiovascular (heart) disease kills more people over 35 in the U.S. than anything else, hands down. High blood pressure is a significant cause of heart disease. Massage therapy has been shown to be highly effective in reducing stress, including lowering blood pressure, which greatly reduces the chances of heart disease. Yet insurance companies refuse to recognize Licensed Massage Therapists (LMTs) as providers of services or cover massage therapy for any purpose under most standard plans.

Now let’s look at the costs: Treating someone who has suffered a heart attack, which is often preventable, requires extremely expensive care both during and after the event. There are emergency room visits, possible surgeries and hospital stays, costly medications, and follow up visits. The low estimate for the average cost of a single heart attack and related medical services (based on some quick research of various sources) is about $40,000!

In contrast, let’s say someone with high blood pressure was prescribed 4 massages per month for 6 months for stress and blood pressure reduction, at an average cost of $125 per session. This would cost about $3,000. That’s less than 10% of the cost of a heart attack. Even if the massage treatments prevented just one in ten possible heart attacks, it would still be less expensive for all ten people to get the treatments, than the cost of a single heart attack! This is not to mention the other health benefits the massages would likely be imparting to the patients as well, which could reduce other kinds of costs.

So why are the insurance companies so anti-massage when it can actually lower costs by preventing disease? I honestly don’t have an easy answer but perhaps I will try to address it in a future newsletter. I encourage you to ask your insurer yourself for a logical answer that makes sense in any way whatsoever. Meanwhile, massage therapist associations will continue to lobby for more recognition and common sense in health insurance policies. Please make your voice heard as well and pass this along for others to think about!

In Health,
Daniel Melmed, L.M.T.
Owner, Body Well