Finding the best way to pay for the complement

Tue, Jun 26, 2012, 01:00

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.”

Carbery says it also depends on the treatment or ailment. “If the treatment is, say, acupuncture to give up smoking and you expect a fairly quick result, fine. If the condition is going to require a longer course of treatments, I would say that many therapists are probably open to negotiation on price and have found this to be the case in the past.”

Niamh Hogan, a holistic therapist who runs Holos Health and Well Being providing clinics in Gorey, Enniscorthy and Wexford, says that the days of the “luxury massage” are a thing of the past and that the majority of clients presenting to her now have some specific physical or emotional issue they wish to address such as stress or chronic pain.

Hogan’s treatments include Chinese medical acupressure, Indian head massage, deep tissue massage and reflexology. She says that while therapists have not dropped their prices, they must work hard to gain and retain clients, and that such innovation can result in cost benefits for the consumer.

Hogan is offering half-price treatments once a month at the Evolv Healthstore in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, where treatments including massage, acupressure and reflexology are available for about €30, which can be considered good value.

Hogan also says that complementary medicine is about the client learning to look after their own health and suggests that workshops and classes can provide a cost-effective way to do this.

Clients can attend a day’s workshop on topics such as “Aromatherapy for Home Use” or “Positive Lifestyle Techniques” for about the same price as an hour-long private consultation.

“Workshops allow people to learn how to apply the information to their own lives,” says Hogan. “It might not suit everyone, but it does make it more financially accessible to many.”

Matt Ronan, who runs Evolv with his wife Nuala, says that while established therapists seem to be surviving the downturn, there is no doubt but they must constantly innovate and that “the customer is king”.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner and acupuncturist Mairead Fahy agrees. “One of the first questions potential clients now ask is, ‘How much?’” she says.

Fahy runs the Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Clinic in Gorey, Co Wexford, and treats many conditions from sinus problems and migraine to insomnia and fertility issues.

While Fahy runs private clinics, she has recently introduced community acupuncture sessions, which run on Mondays and Fridays from 10am to 8pm, and cost just €20 per session as against private acupuncture consultations at €50.

“What I found was that people would come for one or two sessions and then say that they couldn’t afford to come anymore. To many people, a €60 charge makes the treatment unaffordable and inaccessible – it makes no sense to me as a therapist to have a highly beneficial treatment that no one can afford,” says Fahy.

“The aim of the community acupuncture is threefold – first I want to treat clients and make them well, second I want to be able to do this in an affordable way and third, from a professional point of view, I want people to know that acupuncture really can be very beneficial.”

When it comes to complementary therapies, word of mouth is one of the best ways to find a good therapist.

Do your research, ask if the therapist is properly qualified, ask if your health insurance covers the treatment and then . . . relax.

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