Finding the best way to pay for the complement
COMPLEMENTARY therapies are often viewed as just that – non-essential and complementary to conventional or Western-style medical treatments. Yet although therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology and osteopathy are often considered expensive, there is growing interest in them in Ireland.
The average price for most treatments is between €40 and €65 – with €65 at the upper end usually for treatments such as physical therapy and sports injury – and prices can vary substantially between therapists.
The rise in popularity of complementary therapies has seen the leading health insurance providers begin to offer money back on such treatments.
Laya Healthcare offers a range of schemes where members can avail of 50 per cent back on certain therapies up to a fixed number of visits per year. Under some schemes Laya covers homeopathy, acupuncture, reflexology, osteopathy, occupational therapy, chiropractic treatments and massage.
VHI similarly provides benefits for visits to complementary practitioners including acupuncture, chiropractic treatments, physical therapy and reflexology. These are plan specific and depend on the level of cover, but many packages including VHI’s HealthPlus Plans, Parents and Kids plans and LifeStage plans offer some money back on such treatments.
Likewise, Aviva’s Day-to-Day add-on plans can include complementary therapies. Members on plans such as Day-to-Day 50 will get 50 per cent of the cost of a visit back – up to €25 for eight visits per year.
It is important to note that the various health insurers have different remits as to which therapies they cover; they also have different rules on which representative bodies therapists need to be accredited by, so you will need to check with your practitioner whether they qualify.
Some treatments such as physiotherapy may also qualify for tax relief under the Med 1 Health Expenses Claim for Relief form.
Many therapists say they have not dropped their prices in the past few years, arguing that it was difficult to do so as there has been no change in the quality of treatment provided.
Gerald du Bois, registrar of the National Register of Reflexologists Ireland, says that the average cost of a one-hour reflexology treatment is about €60. Prices have remained fairly static, he believes, mainly because the financial outlay for therapists has not diminished.
“Overheads for therapists haven’t gone down,” says Du Bois. “In fact, in many cases if you consider such expenses as electricity, water and rents, expenses have gone up.”
Dr Vincent Carroll, director of the Lansdowne College of Acupuncture and Complementary Medicine in Dublin, has a background in both community care medicine and acupuncture. He believes that acupuncture as a “holistic” treatment offers the patient a good value service in that the patient is treated as a whole – taking many health factors into consideration.
Niamh Carbery, a travel agent who frequently uses complementary medicine, is attending the Posture Centre in Pembroke Street, Dublin, and has also used acupuncture many times. “I don’t think a GP can really help with my back pain, she says.
“And I am not interested in just using medication. Much of my problem is postural and I feel my practitioner is treating the source of the pain, recommending certain exercises, certain lifestyle changes. It’s one fee, but I am getting a full consultation within that hour’s visit.”
Carbery has found the cost of complementary treatments at times prohibitive, but says that her acupuncturists have been very generous in the past.
“Treatments are pricey and because I no longer have health insurance I cannot get a refund on any treatments that I have. This does prevent me going as often as I might like, though I am happy to sacrifice something else in order to maintain my health.”