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Last Updated on 17 December 2018

Does Health Insurance Cover Natural and Alternative Therapies?


Natural and Alternative Therapy; Woman Having Acupuncture Treatment

While medical science is advancing rapidly, many people still seek the same treatments as our ancestors. We call these procedures and treatments “natural” or “alternative,” since traditional medical practitioners don’t offer them.

In this guide, we’ll give you an idea of what you can expect from alternative and natural treatments, as well as the available coverage from health funds. Not all health funds handle natural remedies the same way, so a comparison is your best friend here.

Key Points
  • Some people believe natural and alternative therapies can help to maintain health and avoid taking prescription medication. There are multiple proven and anecdotal benefits of alternative treatments.
  • Health insurance may cover some of these treatments through extras policies.
  • The government is changing their policies on alternative treatments and health care rebates, meaning some health funds might drop these select services from their products.

There is a long list of therapies and medicines that fall under the umbrella of “natural and alternative medicine.” Many of these practices have been handed down by tradition through hundreds of years.

In fact, the majority of these practices have origins that go so far back they’re hard to pin down. Societies have been using procedures like acupuncture and moxibustion for thousands of years, and a lot of people still seek out these treatments today.

Since the roots of alternative medicine are so deep in human culture, some believe that there must be some validity behind the medical claims. Others swear by these natural and alternative health practices and prefer them over the traditional Western therapeutic approach.

Australians Commenting on Benefits of Alternative Treatments

The Alternative Benefits

The benefits of alternative medicine are backed up by a combination of anecdotal and clinical evidence. For example, researchers have concluded that acupuncture is effective at treating back pain in pregnant women.

They have also shown some evidence that acupuncture and moxibustion can turn a breech baby.

Researchers have studied chiropractic treatments as well, and have seen some evidence that it can alleviate lower back pain and headaches. Some people who swear by these treatments also claim it improves overall health and treats sickness, but there’s little to no scientific research behind these statements.

Efficacy of Alternative Practitioners

Reasons for Seeking Alternative Treatments

People have different reasons for seeking natural and alternative treatment. Many people with ongoing health problems grow tired of Western medicine and seek refuge in ancient healing practices.

Others use alternative medicine as supplemental care instead of taking prescription medication.

Although the medical field is always advancing, these ancient healing practices remain consistent. Despite the variety of reasoning, some people feel as though these treatments helped them in one way or another.

Does Health Insurance Cover Alternative Treatments?

Health funds often provide packages that include certain alternative treatments, but they almost never come in a hospital policy.

You’ll be able to cover the bulk of your alternative treatment needs under extras cover. Extras cover traditionally includes vision and dental, but these alternative procedures are usually offered under the high-end extras plan.

Take care when comparing health funds for extras cover, though. Extras cover doesn’t have a universal definition, so you might find that your health fund doesn’t cover your go-to alternative treatment.

The Changing Landscape

Health funds are relatively liberal with what natural therapies they cover in their policies. They often cover a wide range of natural and alternative treatments under their extras policies while their customers gain access to the private health insurance rebate.

The private health insurance rebate is one of the ways the government incentivises purchasing private health cover. It helps to ease the burden on the public healthcare system by making premiums more affordable.

Unfortunately, the government is dropping many natural and alternative treatments from their rebate in April of 2019.

The news comes as an Australian Health Department spokeswoman claimed that, “Commonwealth funding is typically only paid where a therapy has demonstrated clinical efficacy.”

“Therefore,” she said, “the Australian Government has decided to remove private health insurance coverage for these services from complying health insurance products that attract the private health insurance rebate.”

List of Natural and Alternative Therapies Losing the Private Health Insurance Rebate in 2019

The Future of Health Cover and Alternative Treatments

You’ll still be able to claim some of these treatments through your health fund. The difference in the near future, though, is that you won’t be able to claim the government health insurance rebate on your premiums.

The Australian government is making this move as a way to lower the cost of monthly private health insurance premiums. Unfortunately, it may lead to many health funds dropping these services from their extras policies.

It remains to be seen how the industry will react to this change, but it also means it’s more important than ever to compare your cover.

If natural and alternative therapies are important to you, make sure you shop around for a health fund that offers these services. Although the Health Department claims they haven’t seen enough substantial proof of their effect, many people still attest to the positivity of these practices.

Keep in mind, though, that health funds will continue to cover other forms of natural and alternative treatment. Acupuncture and chiropractic, for instance, will still be on the “extras” list for most policies.

This new policy takes aim at certain alternative treatments, but not all of them. You’ll still find substantial coverage for some of the natural procedures you may require.

Use our free comparison tool to help you get a better idea of which health funds cover your alternative medicine needs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Health Insurance

There are three types of health insurance in Australia. They are:

  • Hospital Cover
  • Extras Cover (also known as general or ancillary cover)
  • Ambulance Cover

Hospital cover can ensure any unexpected surgeries, treatments or hospital stays you may require will be covered. With appropriate cover you will have the flexibility to choose your own doctor and the option of receiving treatment in a private hospital.  Most hospital covers allow you to stay in a private room. One other perk is skipping the public hospital systems’ waiting list, which can be lengthy for non emergency treatment.

Extras cover pays benefits for a a range of services, often including treatments and procedures related to the fullowing:

  • Dental/oral health
  • Glasses and contact lenses
  • Podiatry
  • Physiotherapy
  • Psychulogy
  • Acupuncture
  • Remedial massage
  • Chiropractic
  • Hearing aids
  • Travel vaccinations

Ambulance cover, as the name suggests, will cover you should you require emergency ambulance transport. In an emergency, there is enough to worry about. Having the expenses covered for provides security and peace of mind. Many hospital covers include emergency ambulance transport If yours doesn’t, you will need to shop for this separately.

Life is unpredictable. You never know when you might need cover. No matter what life stage you’re in, there’s a policy out there for everyone. You can select as much or as little cover as you want, depending on your health needs and requirements. It’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind health cover provides.

There is no one answer here. Costs vary across providers and policy types. Just because a policy is cheap, that does not mean it is ‘value for money’ and vise versa. Make sure you check what’s included and excluded in a policy before signing up, as you want to purchase a policy that best fits your specific needs.

Premium: A premium is the price you pay for your insurance policy (it may be paid annually or on an ongoing basis).

Policy: An insurance plan. In other words, it is the type of insurance you choose to select.

Policy Holder: The owner, or ‘holder’ of a policy.

Claim: In the event that you require treatment for a service covered by your policy, you can lodge a claim for reimbursement of all or part of the cost of that treatment.. These days, most claims are submitted electronically by the health care provider (dentist, physio etc)

Lifetime Health Cover: Lifetime Health Cover was put in place to encourage young Australians to seek out and maintain ownership of private health insurance early in their lives. If you do not take out a policy before you turn 31, extra charges will be applied should you take out a policy at a later time.

This means you will pay a 2% loading on top of your premium for every year that passes after you turn 30. For example, if you take out a policy for the first time at age 32, you will be charged 4% of your premium as an extra, then at age 40, 20% and so on, up to a maximum loading of 70%.

The loading is payable for 10 consecutive years of cover - after which it is removed and you premiums will be reduced.

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS): Medicare offers assistance for Australians with many of their their prescribed medication costs through the PBS. This assistance is in the form of subsidies towards the cost of many medications. You can check if your prescribed medication is on the list of subsidised items here.

Medicare Levy Surcharge: The Medicare Levy Surcharge is an additional charge (tax) applied to single Australian taxpayers who earn over the income threshold of $90,000 per year, or families/couples who earn over $180,000 per year. This surcharge is only applied to those who choose not to have a private health insurance policy.

The surcharge is designed to reduce pressure on the public health system by encouraging those with higher incomes to invest in private health cover.

Private Health Insurance Rebate: The government’s Private Health Insurance rebate lowers premiums for most Australians with private health insurance Older Australians may enjoy an even higher rebate. Our calculator can help you estimate the Government health insurance rebate you may receive.

Disclaimer: The above information is correct and current at the time of publication


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