Feature Archive

Covering Alternative Therapies

What kind of help can you expect from your insurer?

WebMD Feature

May 15, 2000 -- I've tried everything for allergies and asthma. Well, almost everything. I refuse to get rid of my beloved St. Bernard, and I won't move away from my dust-blown neighborhood. As a result, I have spent days at a time holding tissues to my nose, coughing into the phone, and grabbing my inhaler like a lifeline. I've been on hiking trips where I had to stop high atop a mountain, gasping for air, hours away from emergency medical care. And I've often awakened at night frightened and unable to breathe. Nothing my doctor offered eased my symptoms reliably. Before I resorted to getting injections -- a last-ditch treatment -- I decided to try some therapies that I hoped would get to the root of my overactive immune system: herbs and acupuncture.

So lately I've been making regular visits to an acupuncturist and brewing up medicinal teas. There's no guarantee that my offbeat approach will work, but so far the signs are good. I no longer fumble for an inhaler at 4 in the morning -- and today I even forgot where I left the box of tissues. Unfortunately, when it comes to finances, I'm pretty much on my own. My insurer referred me to an acupuncturist who agreed to a discount rate. But the help stops there.

As consumers like me flock to alternative treatments, however, more and more insurance companies are offering at least some assistance. Some major health plans select a few therapies, typically chiropractic and acupuncture, to offer as core benefits. Unfortunately, coverage still tends to be spotty. Still, even if your insurer isn't one of those offering regular coverage, insurance experts say there are some little-known strategies you can use to boost your chances of getting helpful alternatives covered.