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Private Health Reforms and complementary therapies – what you need to know

It is that time of year when everyone who has private health insurance starts to receive their renewal notices, along with the usual increases of their premiums, which are effective April 1 each year. Before you delete that email, or file that letter from your health fund, there are important changes taking effect this year which you need to be aware of.

It is estimated that over 50% of Australians have some kind of private health insurance. Generally, there are 2 types of cover that health funds provide. These are:

  • Hospital cover, designed to help cover the costs associated with medical procedures in hospital

  • General treatment cover, also known as extras or ancillary cover, designed to help cover the costs of other health and wellbeing treatments such as dental, optical, and complementary treatments such as massage, exercise physiology, and acupuncture.

One of the key changes are the reduction of rebates health funds are able to offer under the complementary therapies. Complementary therapies cover a broad range of approaches to traditional medical approaches and often is referred to in a number of ways (e.g. natural therapy, holistic therapy, alternate medicine).

After a review by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), who examined the literature on the effectiveness, safety, and costs of the therapies, it was argued there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate the value in providing continued rebates under the definition of general treatment for certain therapies.

As a result of the review, the Department of Health have removed the following natural therapies from the private health general treatment definition from April 1 2019:

  • Alexander technique

  • Aromatherapy

  • Bowen therapy

  • Feldenkrais

  • Western Herbalism

  • Homeopathy

  • Iridology

  • Kinesiology

  • Naturopathy

  • Pilates

  • Reflexology

  • Rolfing

  • Shiatsu

  • Tai Chi

  • Yoga

Does this mean you should give up on natural therapies all together?

Not necessarily.

While researching natural therapies for this blog entry, I came across Ayurveda, an Indian based holistic approach to medicine. Though not a therapy directly covered by private health, it does include some elements that are to be excluded from private health from April 1 2019. Essentially, Ayurveda consists of several complementary therapies including:

  • Massage

  • Yoga

  • Acupuncture

  • Herbal Medicines

A study that examined Ayurveda as an intervention to improving health and wellbeing showed improved results in several measures including spirituality, gratitude, self-compassion, psychological wellbeing, depression, anxiety, and the physiological changes in blood pressure. It is important to note, I am not advocating Ayurveda. I am simply raising awareness that there are a range of studies that show natural therapies may have some benefit, despite some therapies (e.g. yoga) been removed from the private health rebate scheme.

It would be impossible for me to cover all these therapies in a single blog, however there are a lot of resources available to help you make informed decisions on what may be appropriate for you. Beyond Blue emphasises that consumers perform adequate research in selecting a professional. For example, they suggest checking whether a practitioner is registered with an appropriate state, or governing body. My last tip of advice coming from someone who has worked in the Private Health industry, is shop around. With costs raising yearly, if you are someone who has claimed a lot of these natural therapies, and are no longer able to do so, then perhaps consider reassessing your level of cover. There are plenty of providers out there (e.g. Bupa, Medibank, HCF). The Australian Government also has a website that enables consumers to compare policies to help make an informed decision on the cover that suits their needs.

PS- the good news is that if you only typically use remedial massage, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, or Exercise Physiology, then these changes to natural therapies will not impact you. Book yourself a massage today!!


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