The debate over health insurance is current and diverse. Some feel that insurance is inherently evil while others literally depend on it for their lives. As Oriental medicine continues to move into the mainstream of health care, employers have begun to recognize it as a safe, effective form of healing and have started to integrate these therapies into their existing health insurance plans.

Seton Healthcare Network added acupuncture as a benefit to its employees in 2009. Laura Buford, with Infection Prevention and Control at Dell Children’s Medical Center found relief at the Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin (AOMA): “A couple of years ago I had bronchitis three times in a row. After that I noticed any minimal exertion was causing chest tightness and coughing spells–even just walking half a block. I have noticed acupuncture has helped me with it already, even just after the first treatment.”

AOMA is one of the largest providers of acupuncture and Oriental medicine in Austin. The student and professional clinics conducted more than 20,000 patient visits in 2009. AOMA is a preferred provider for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, United Healthcare, and the Seton Health Plan. “Being able to use my insurance at AOMA has been a tremendous help. I had symptoms that have been alleviated with the acupuncture treatments,” says Trish Tatum, who started coming to AOMA for acupuncture as soon as her company started the benefit.

AOMA provides services to patients in traditional Western medical settings including the Seton Healthcare Network’s clinics, Seton Medical Center Williamson, and at People’s Community Clinic. The integration of acupuncture and Oriental medicine is a key part of AOMA’s graduate program curriculum. “The increasing acceptance of acupuncture and alternative medicine into the mainstream and by health insurance companies is opening doors to the outside world and allowing places like AOMA to help more people,” says AOMA’s Vice President of Faculty, Jamie Wu. “I believe that in the future more insurance companies will cover acupuncture and we will see acupuncturists working in hospitals alongside biomedical doctors. This will be a win-win for everyone. For example, we can effectively treat the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients, helping to stop or reduce nausea and improve the patient’s quality of life.”

Find out if your plan covers acupuncture
Call your insurance company and ask if your plan covers acupuncture. If your plan covers acupuncture, find out how many treatments are covered. Coverage by plans vary greatly with some offering unlimited coverage, others covering 35 treatments a year and some covering as few as two treatments per month. Cindy Pena’s health insurance covers 20 treatments per year, “I was planning to go anyway, but it’s really nice that I can go weekly rather than have to spread it out,” Pena says. Tatum sees it differently: “It would be really nice to have more than 20 treatments a year. I feel like I have to plan out my healthcare because of this limitation”.

Some plans may cover all acupuncturists who meet your state's licensing requirements, while other insurance companies only cover acupuncture performed by doctors or employees of an HMO facility. At this time, Medicaid and Medicare do not provide coverage for acupuncture. The American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM) is working on the HR 646, The Federal Acupuncture Coverage Act, which would amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for coverage of qualified acupuncturist services under part B of the Medicare Program, and provide for coverage of such services under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Perhaps part of the animosity towards insurance companies comes when the U.S. healthcare system is compared with that of other nations. Wu compares it to what his friends pay back home: “In China individuals pay 50 yuan (less than $10) a year for health insurance, which in turn covers 80 percent of outpatient and 100 percent of inpatient services. The U.S. healthcare system is one of the most expensive in the world.” Compared to traditional Western medicine, acupuncture and Oriental medicine are less expensive. Acupuncture can also decrease reliance on prescription drugs.

Regardless of whether you have insurance of not, AOMA’s graduate student interns conduct treatments under the guidance of expert faculty practitioners for only $30 per visit – similar to the price of a co-pay. Additionally, AOMA has established a program to provide even further discounted treatments to veterans and their dependents, students, law enforcement officers and law enforcement support staff, City of Austin employees and seniors.

Author's Bio: 

About AOMA
The Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin offers a masters-level graduate program in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, preparing its students for careers as skilled, professional practitioners. AOMA is known for its internationally recognized faculty, award-winning student clinical internship program, and herbal medicine program. Since its founding in 1993, AOMA has grown rapidly in size and reputation, drawing students from around the nation and faculty from around the world. AOMA also conducts more than 20,000 patient visits annually in its student and professional clinics. AOMA collaborates with Western healthcare institutions including the Seton Family of Hospitals, and gives back to the community through partnerships with nonprofit organizations and by providing free and reduced price treatments to people who cannot afford them. The Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin is located at 2700 West Anderson Lane. AOMA also serves patients and retail customers at its south Austin location, 4701 West Gate Blvd. For more information see or call 512-492-3034.