My Employees Want Alternative Medicine: How do I do it?

A funny rumor reached HR this morning. It seems that an employee has these funny circular marks, almost like bruises on her arms and shoulders. It’s also known this employee just began dating again, and bruises raise red flags.

Walking into the break room, and, behold, there are those marks. Yet, the employee is glowing about how wonderful her massage therapist is and how the cupping relieved her shoulder pain. You remember the employee had several doctor’s appointments over the past couple of months. She lost time at work, had lower productivity, and just wasn’t happy.

Now smiling, the employee looks at you and asks “Why isn’t cupping covered by our insurance? I know another massage therapist was, but the guy that fixed me isn’t!”

Do you know what cupping is? You didn’t know your insurance covered massage therapy to begin with!

Cupping therapy can be described as an ancient form of alternative or functional medicine in which cups are placed on the skin for several minutes to create suction. Cupping therapy is used to address pain, blood flow issues, for relaxation and as a type of deep tissue massage.

Still talking, it appears the doctors covered by your insurance didn’t have the solution, other than surgery. But this alternative medicine seems to have restored her mobility, happiness, and health.

More and more of your employees are seeking out alternative medicine to fill in these types of gaps.

In all the years I’ve been teaching companies about saving money on health insurance, alternative medicine is one of the most requested and sought out therapies not covered by insurance. Of course, there are ways around this little problem, one example of which will talk about later.

Let’s first take a look at some of the ways your insurance companies treat alternative medicine, and how you can include it in your employee’s benefits.

Why Insurance Doesn’t Cover Alternative and Integrated Medicine

Every insurance company has different views of what constitutes complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Most are based on consistent treatments, scientifically predictable results, and measurable change.

Only a few of the nearly 200 different registered alternative medicines have the legal and scientific basis to prove these kind of results.

That’s not encouraging, wouldn’t you say?

Let’s take herbal medicine, for example. Practitioners of herbal medicine strongly oppose licensing and legal restrictions. Therefore, few insurances cover an herbal practitioner or the cost of prescribed herbal supplements.

The devil is in the details. With herbal medicine, there are several distinct schools of practice, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Western Herbalism. Even within these schools, various practitioners use different herbs in different ways.

Which one is right? And do you want to government to decide that for you?

When the government steps in and starts dictating who has the legal right to practice herbalism, it passes these regulations to the insurance company. What if the legal right to practice is limited to Traditional Chinese Medicine? That means every other Ayurveda practitioner, home-based herbalists, and Western Herbalists now find their businesses and livelihood suddenly illegal.

This happened with the doctors and nurses we know today. In the early 1900s, the American Medical Association set out to formalize education and create standards for doctors. It sounded great until we learn that big businesses, such as the Rockefellers, had a hand in dictating the type of medicine that would be promoted would be pharmaceutical based, therefore increasing their profits.

Because it became illegal to call oneself a doctor from any other school of medicine other than the approved ones, millions of doctors went out of business, and whole strains of medical treatment either went underground or extinct.

The resurgent of complementary and alternative medicine is the revival of many of these techniques that survived the original medical purge. Just like the risk of licensing herbal practitioners, these alternative medicines need to remain unlicensed and passed down traditionally to stay viable.

Because it isn’t profitable or legal to test some of these alternative medicines, studies don’t exist to show it works, has measurable results, nor can the practitioner predict the outcome.

Today’s medicine and the insurance that pays for it is based on metrics. If it can’t be measured and replicated, you can’t predict weather at will work for somebody else. And without the ability to predict results, the insurance company loses money.

What Alternative Therapies Are Covered By Insurance? And which ones aren’t…

But, not all alternative medicines are entirely devoid of proof. Increasingly, massage therapy, naturopathic medicine, chiropractors, and a select few other practitioners have made it onto the list of alternative treatments commonly covered by insurances.

You’ll need to check your specific insurance plan to discover which alternatives are covered and if a particular practitioner is covered. Here’s a list the ones commonly covered:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Ayurvedic Medicine
  • Biofeedback Therapy
  • Chiropractic
  • Gym Memberships
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Massage Therapy
  • Naturopathic Doctors
  • Nutritional Consulting
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine

We don’t want you to limit your choice of alternative medicine just because your insurance will cover it. Remember, if insurance and licensing regulations constrain practitioners, they may not be able to provide the type of care you need, even if it doesn’t cost you a penny.

Also, many practitioners choose not to take insurance because of the paperwork, delay in payments, and headaches.

Private HSA for Alternative Medicine Use

Another lifetime ago, health savings account were privately created by individuals for their own health needs. People specifically put away money “just in case.” Today, many employers are going back to that mindset and creating Health Savings Accounts (HSA) for their employees.

HSAs can be used to help save money on any health-related items including things that are usually not included in insurances. Things like specialty massage therapy, diet nutrition, reiki, herbal medicine, supplements, and many other less common form of treatments can be selected and then paid with the HSA.

Your workers stay healthier when they are more involved with making the decisions of their healthcare rather than letting it up to the insurance companies. Healthier employees are more productive and take off less unpaid sick time.

More productive employees mean a higher profit margin for the company and less turnover.

Integrating Alternatives – What You Need To Know

Working with your HR department and opening discussions with presidents and owner of the company helps reinforce the necessity of including alternative medicine and HSAs into the budget. Even if these options aren’t implemented in the current year, repeated requests will help include stipends in future years budgets, benefiting the health of your employees.

I help a lot of different companies open the lines of communication to lower health insurance costs, including starting HSAs and reducing the cost of insurance. Many of these changes come down to your employees’ requests being heard and the demand for health savings accounts. In cases like this, the squeaky wheel really does get greased.

Based on statistics from the National Institute of Health 38% to 50% of all people are using some form of alternative medicine right now. If your employees are asking for more options, they will get them. So, think about this, if another company offers health insurance with alternative medicine coverage, would your employees leave you for them?

Dr. Josh Luke is a keynote speaker, award-winning Futurist, faculty member at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy and author of Health-Wealth: Is healthcare bankrupting your business? 9 Steps to Financial Recovery. Drawing on his experiences as a hospital CEO, Dr. Luke delivers engaging and entertaining keynotes that teach audiences simple concepts on how individuals and companies can save thousands on healthcare. For more information on Dr. Josh Luke, please visit