The best health funds for natural therapies
Private health insurance is available as both hospital and extras cover. Hospital provides cover for hospital treatment as a private patient and extras cover helps cover the cost of ancillary services such as optical, dental, physiotherapy and chiropractic services.
With the growing trend towards alternative medicines, many insurers are now also including natural therapies in their extras cover. This pays a benefit towards visits to practitioners in a range of fields including acupuncture, remedial massage, reflexology, homeopathy, naturopathy, Chinese herbalism and shiatsu.
This guide looks at which services are covered, what you can expect to get back and which are the best health funds for natural therapies.
There are a wide range of services available that fall under the umbrella of natural therapies. Some of these include:
- Acupuncture. Use of needles to stimulate pressure points.
- Aromatherapy. Use of aromatic botanical essential oils.
- Bowen therapy. Gentle movements to balance muscle and tissue interaction.
- Iridology. Revealing disease by reading the iris and areas of the eye.
- Naturopathy. Treating diseases by dealing with their underlying causes.
- Osteopathy. Healing through methods like soft tissue treatment, lymphatic drainage and posture correction.
- Reflexology. Applying pressure to reflex points on the feet and hands.
- Shiatsu. Applying pressure to various anatomical points.
The extent to which particular natural therapy services are covered will depend largely on the insurer and policy. Those that are covered under the Private Health Tax Rebate are currently being reviewed by the government to determine whether they offer sufficient medical benefits. They include Alexander Technique, aromatherapy, Bowen therapy, Buteyko therapy, Feldenkrais, herbalism, homeopathy, iridology, kinesiology, massage therapy, naturopathy, pilates, reflexology, Rolfing, shiatsu, tai chi and yoga.
The following table lists some popular health insurance providers and the amount of cover offered by each for natural therapy services.
|Health fund||How much is covered?||Find out more|
|ahm’s Lifestyle Extras cover. Reimburses up to $400 per person per year and $800 per family per year for 17 complementary and alternative therapies including:||More info|
|Australian Unity||More info|
The amount you can claim per year on natural therapies will depend on the level of cover your policy provides. As the policy comparison table illustrates, maximum benefit limits can range from $50 up to $500 or more, but as premium costs are generally higher the greater the benefit paid, you would need to factor in how often you use these services to decide if this cover is right for you.
Generally, there will be out-of-pocket expenses for some natural therapies (the gap between what a practitioner charges and what you can claim back from your insurer), and for those services that don’t qualify for the Private Health Rebate, the amount you pay will be greater. So again, it’s important to weigh up the costs versus the benefits when choosing extras cover for natural therapies.
As with most health insurance policies, waiting periods do apply. A waiting period is a pre-determined amount of time you must wait before being able to claim a benefit for a particular service. Its purpose is to prevent people from joining a fund, claiming for a service and then cancelling their policy; a practice that disadvantages long-term fund members who have paid their dues.
In the case of hospital cover, waiting periods can be 12 months or more, but with extras cover, they are usually only two months (although services such as major dental can be up to 6 months). In the case of natural therapies, two months is the average waiting period before you can claim for a service. However, insurers often waive these waiting periods as a promotional incentive and are required to do so if you have switched from another insurer where you have already served a waiting period for the same service.
It is estimated that more than 70% of Australians now include a form of natural therapy in their overall health care, so many people obviously believe such services can be of benefit when used in conjunction with traditional medical treatment.
Many natural therapies treat the mind and body as a whole and this approach may be beneficial for overall wellbeing and the maintenance of good health. While traditional medicine often treats symptoms after the fact, some natural therapies focus on identifying potential illnesses and diseases before they occur, which can be a useful prevention tool, particularly when they promote a healthy lifestyle as part of the preventative treatment.
While the recent government review of natural therapies that attract a Private Health Rebate failed to find enough evidence to suggest that most of these services were beneficial, the conclusion they drew was that a lack of evidence does not necessarily imply a lack of credibility. After all, many natural therapies have been practised for thousands of years in various countries and cultures, so they are obviously perceived as beneficial for many people around the world.