Current trends with insurance and acupuncture

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by Gord Grant PhD, RAc

Alberta healthcare does not cover acupuncture yet.  However, many private healthcare plans offer acupuncture-specific annual allocations, usually around $500 or so, or a health spending account which can be used to reimburse part or all the costs of acupuncture. Recently in 2010, the BC ministry of health decided to reimburse up to $23 per visit for acupuncture for a combined annual limit of 10 visits per year, to individuals with a lower income (with < $30,000 net income).  Acupuncture is much more popular on the west coast anyhow, maybe because it comes with the climate and out-doors lifestyle that attracts health-conscious people.  But this ruling has greatly influenced the ability of many low income individuals to access acupuncture when before they could not.  It has also made community acupuncture a more viable model for acupuncturists in BC.  For community acupuncture to work as a sustainable business model in our clinic, we need to receive about $30 per treatment on average, assuming we can treat about 4-5 people per hour.  This translates to paying the rent and overhead, and a fair wage to an acupuncturist.  A sliding scale is commonly established in community acupuncture as we have, from $20-$40, since this promotes greater accessibility for students and those without insurance or the financial means.  The sliding scale has worked for us, since indeed, on average, people pay about $30.  The sliding scale can transform the typical private insurance coverage of $500 to reimburse from 6-8 private sessions to almost 20 community sessions!  That means someone can come once every second week for the whole year on their insurance alone, and if they really want and need it, they can usually afford any extra on their own.

We hope other clinics will start to offer community acupuncture as the idea catches on, and as people in Edmonton become more familiar with the preventative nature of acupuncture. It offers a valid, health-promoting option that people can do regularly.