Massage Providers Ready to help Tackle Opioid Epidemic
Medical and healthcare policy experts are increasingly coming into agreement about the cost-effective benefits of using massage therapy as a noninvasive and extremely safe treatment for chronic pain management.
The clear driver behind this growing consensus has been the nation’s efforts to combat the growing opioid epidemic.
In a nutshell, many people become addicted to opioids such as OxyContin or Fentanyl after being prescribed these painkillers for treating and managing chronic pain. After becoming addicted, patients often abuse painkillers, either through their own prescriptions or through the black market, or they move on to other readily available opiate sources such as street heroin.
As this scenario has become more common, we have seen the number of opioid related overdoses, including more than 67,000 deaths in 2016 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (a 21% increase over the previous year), skyrocket into epidemic proportions with a little sign of slowing down.
Massage therapy has proven to be an effective alternative, or at least a complement to other pain management strategies, that helps individuals obtain pain relief while avoiding opiate addiction. It has also been used successfully for many years as a routine addiction treatment at various types of rehabilitation facilities.
While this is not surprising to those of us in the massage therapy profession, it is finally now being formally recognized at some of the highest levels of government and healthcare policy.
On September 18, 2017, the National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter, signed by more than 35 attorneys general, to the CEO of an organization called Americas Health Insurance Plans. This is an association that represents more than 1000 health insurance companies. The letter urged the association members to prioritize and find ways to implement non opioid-based treatment options, including, specifically, therapeutic massage.
Whether or not and when these recommendations may be put into action remains to be seen. Health insurance companies in the United States have been highly resistant to making therapeutic massage more available to their policyholders as an included benefit.
Why Won’t Insurance Companies Cover Massage Therapy?
One could theorize that one of the reasons for this is, ironically, because massage is something that can be a pleasurable or even “addictive” activity that people want to do as frequently as possible. This could give rise to a situation where there is potential for abuse of insurance benefits with people getting massages for pleasure rather than for prescribed therapeutic purposes.
There is also the potential for massage therapy to be used to commit insurance fraud, which became so problematic in the State of Florida with respect to no-fault automobile insurance benefits, that Governor Rick Scott passed a law in 2012 specifically prohibiting services rendered by massage therapists to auto injury victims (the only state in the country with such a law). Unfortunately in that case, rather than go after the criminals committing fraud, an entire profession was tossed aside without consideration of so many injury Florida residents who to this day continue to be prevented from obtaining needed massage therapy through their insurance to recover from their injuries.
The point is, suddenly allowing massage therapy to be a covered benefit could be costly to insurance companies if it is not done in a smart way. Overprescribing or “abuse” of therapeutic massage benefits and fraud are things that would need to be watched closely.
Whether or not it makes sense to make massage available, insurance companies currently make it virtually impossible for massage therapists (including companies like Body Well) to register as a provider in order to accept patient’s insurance and provide these valuable healthcare services. We routinely have to turn away prospective patients seeking professional medical massage services because we are unable to join provider networks and bill their insurance. If it were feasible or possible, we would gladly do it, just as we do currently across the country with auto insurance and worker’s compensation insurance plans which fortunately do provide some medical massage benefits.
So we have a situation now where doctors and other healthcare providers want to prescribe massage therapy in order to reverse the tide of the opioid epidemic. We have a consensus among high-level government officials urging insurance companies to make massage therapy available to patients seeking safe, non-addictive relief. We have providers chomping at the bit to fill the need. What is missing is leadership from the insurance companies and the insurance industry, which continues to drag its feet on this issue, leading to thousands of preventable deaths every year and countless other costs.
Body Well Massage Professionals is well positioned and ready to be part of the solution to the opioid crisis by partnering with stakeholders to come up with reasonable, effective solutions to pursue and implement the recommendations handed down by the Association of Attorneys General.
Massage is safe medicine that works and can save many lives. Let’s keep pushing to make this happen!
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