Natural therapies and alternative medicines have become more popular in Australia over the years. Many Australians dabble in both conventional medicine and natural alternatives.
Some natural therapies can be covered by private health insurance, specifically an extras policy, allowing you to claim the cost of treatment (up to a limited amount).
What natural therapies does health insurance cover?
There are different types of natural therapies health insurance covers. The following are some of the most popular natural therapies in Australia that are covered by private health insurance.
This type of natural therapy involves a variety of techniques designed to treat the cause and symptoms of injuries and problems that make it hard or painful to move. Remedial massage works alongside and can include other types of massage such as deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy, and sports massage.1
Each type of remedial massage will have a different emphasis, though techniques and treatment methods may overlap. Typically, these massages involve a therapist physically manipulating the patient’s body, muscles and nerve points to treat a variety of symptoms.
Acupuncture is a natural therapy that has been practised for thousands of years, originating in ancient China. This therapy works by using fine needles that are carefully inserted into specific points across the skin. Acupuncture is used to treat a variety of conditions, commonly dental pain, jaw pain and nausea following chemotherapy or surgical operations.
During treatment, an acupuncturist may perform several techniques such as light suction on the skin to bring blood closer to the point, burning herbs and holding them over the acupuncture point (known as moxibustion) and even the use of a laser.2
The Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel notes that Chinese medicine, a traditional natural therapy, has been proven to have some benefit in treating disorders such as gynaecological and gastrointestinal disorders, among others.4 Some specific natural therapies which have their origin in Chinese medicine, such as Tai Chi, are no longer covered by health insurance (see below)
N.B. What’s available to claim will vary based on your health fund and the level of extras cover you take out. Be sure to read through your policy documents to get an understanding of what is and isn’t covered and whether any limits apply.
Which natural therapies are no longer covered by health insurance?
As part of the government changes to private health insurance, over a dozen natural therapies were removed from extras cover. As of the 1st of April 2019, you’ll no longer be able to claim the costs of the following 16 natural therapies, regardless of whether or not you were covered for them previously:
- Western Herbalism
- Tai Chi
- Alexander Technique
- Bowen Therapy
These government changes to private health insurance were designed to help make health insurance cheaper for customers, as noted by the Australian Government’s Department of Health. Roughly 54% of the Australian population were covered by an extras policy as of 2019, and many of them were affected by these health insurance reforms.5
Out of pocket expenses and health insurance for natural therapies
The difference between what your health practitioner charges, and what your health fund and Medicare pays for a particular benefit is called a gap payment – also called an out of pocket expense.
There may be some out of pocket costs for your natural therapy treatments, depending on which service you use and how much your policy allows you to claim. You’ll need to check your policy brochure to check how much your fund allows you to claim on these therapies.
Typical waiting periods and annual limits
A typical waiting period for natural therapy benefits is two months, though you’ll need to check with the health fund to be certain. Sometimes you will have to wait up to 12 months, other times you might not have to undergo any waiting periods at all. It all depends on your policy and your insurer.
You should also keep in mind that waiting periods are transferred with you when you switch health funds, you carry over any limits and benefits you had already served waiting periods for under your previous policy.
Beyond waiting periods, another thing to look out for is annual limits. This is the limit on the amount of money via benefits your health fund will pay within a 12 month period for the services and treatments you claim on your health insurance, including natural therapies.
Is it time to get covered?
Extras health policies can cover a range of medical treatments undertaken outside of the hospital, that medicare doesn’t pay a benefit toward. This can include dental appointments, physiotherapy, new prescription glasses, and even orthotics for your shoes.
Health insurance can be enormously valuable to many Aussies, but finding private health insurance for natural therapies can be a difficult task because each one will have different inclusions, exclusions and limits.
If you’re thinking about taking out private health insurance, you can compare and buy some of Australia’s leading health funds for free using our health insurance comparison service. This way, you can choose what you want from your cover and compare results side by side to find great value cover, all in one place within a few minutes.
Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Natural Therapies for Private Health Insurance. Department of Health, Australian Government. 2015.
Acupuncture. Better Health Channel, Victoria State Government. 2017.
Chinese herbal medicine. Better Health Channel, Victoria State Government. 2014.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. Better Health Channel, Victoria State Government. 2018.
Private health insurance reforms: Changing coverage for some natural therapies. Department of Health, Australian Government. 2019.