Health Insurance cuts—Massage sector in need of regulatory reform

Health Insurance cuts—Massage sector in need of regulatory reform

General, Government, Industry

The Australian Association of Massage Therapists has today called on Health Funds and Government to work with the remedial massage sector on necessary regulatory reform following increases in Health Fund premiums and cuts in the amount refunded for remedial massage therapy by insurers.

AAMT CEO, Tricia Hughes said that legitimate, qualified remedial massage therapy businesses are under increasing pressure because of the weak regulatory framework which is extremely vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous, unqualified or poorly trained massage therapists.

‘It is no surprise that health funds are moving to curtail burgeoning costs for remedial massage, given the rise in fraudulent claims by unprofessional therapists, and an increase in questionable qualifications, illegal prostitution, and work practices associated with the plethora of so-called wellbeing massage clinics, now appearing across Australia.

‘Loopholes in the system continue to plague the industry allowing unscrupulous operators to abuse the regulatory system and make spurious claims about their qualifications and services.

‘This problem has had a direct impact on insurance coverage and the choice of treatments available to patients such as the aged, chronically ill, and injured workers who justifiably need remedial massage. A collective response to tighten regulations is required urgently,’ Ms Hughes said.

To curtail fraudulent claims, during 2013 Medibank, Australia’s largest health insurer excluded qualified compliant members who changed their business address and newly-qualified remedial massage therapists from obtaining a provider number. This means that some of these qualified therapists cannot achieve Medibank Provider status under the Private Health Insurance Scheme.

The recent changes to health insurance coverage for massage further discriminates against legitimate remedial massage therapists, who have significantly more training in the application of massage than some allied health practitioners providing massage, such as physiotherapists, who continue to receive higher levels of insurance cover.

‘We are now in a situation where legitimate remedial massage therapists are being penalised unfairly because of the actions of rogues who are free to operate and sully the legitimate massage sector,’ Ms Hughes said.

Ms Hughes said that the sector has simply grown beyond the capabilities of the current regulatory system and resources. Being funded by member subscriptions, the AAMT and the massage sector as a whole do not have the resources to properly regulate massage education providers and the 25,000 plus massage therapists operating in Australia today.

As a professional health service, remedial massage is now an integral part of the health care system, being widely accepted as a legitimate and effective treatment of symptoms for a variety of conditions.

‘With Australian’s spending around 3.5 billion a year on natural health and natural health care expected to grow by around 5.3 per cent to 2018 (IBIS World report, April 2013), reforms are needed urgently to assist the massage sector to keep up with consumer needs and demand,’ Ms Hughes said.

A collaborative approach involving governments, health funds and the massage sector is needed to achieve policies and programs that can weed out unscrupulous and unprofessional operators for the benefit of patients and the health system as a whole,’ Ms Hughes said.

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