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Is Yoga Covered by Your Health Insurance?

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Is Yoga Covered by Your Health Insurance?

Cate Misczuk

Updated: March 21, 2019    Published: March 18, 2019

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There are a lot of things that come to mind when you think of yoga — hippies, extremely flexible people, women in stretchy pants. How about yoga health insurance coverage?

What many people don’t realize is that yoga is so much more than a hobby or recreational activity. In fact, there are tons of studies going on right now in Western medicine that support what some groups have known for thousands of years: yoga has serious health benefits.

Despite this, yoga has yet to be accepted as a treatment covered by most health insurance companies. Many think it’s not just about the effectiveness, but the price.

In major American cities, a single yoga class can range between $15 and $20. That’s a lot of money for the average American, which is why there is such a huge disparity between the people who can afford to reap the physical and mental therapeutic benefits of yoga and those who can’t.

Now, yogis and yoga instructors across the country are calling on insurers to cover the practice.

Yoga Is Covered by Health Insurers In Some Forms

Alternative Medicine and Occupational Therapy: Chiropractors and doctors with a background in alternative medicine can teach yoga poses to patients when appropriate.

For instance, if you book a session of physical therapy, your medical provider may wind up teaching you yoga-informed exercises on a regular basis.

In-network and out-of-network benefits may also come into play when seeking out this type of care. While in-network providers are less expensive, they may have a limited range of services they can provide. Out-of-network providers or services have more freedom to offer a extended menu of services, including yoga, albeit at a higher price.

Unique Treatment Plans: There are some real examples of yoga being covered by health insurance and it significantly changing patients lives. One model is the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease. In this Medicare-covered program, patients with heart disease are taught how to eat a meatless diet, meditate and partake in regular exercise — including group yoga sessions which aim to promote exercise and reduce stress.

Frank and Kathy Korona of West Virginia, who participated in the program and spoke to CNN, said they went from having heart attacks and being on the brink of heart disease to living happy, healthier lives thanks to the yoga-inclusive program.

Each yoga session billed Medicare about $70 an hour, which permitted up to 72 one-hour sessions. Those who support preventative medicine are quick to point out that the cost of these sessions can be less than operations and medications prescribed over long periods of time.

Health plans that include #yoga can help people who otherwise wouldn’t have this whole body exercise. Click To Tweet

“Usually at the end of the session, the instructor will say, ‘Now the reward, get into the total relaxation pose,’ and we do that, and it just feels so good,” Kathy explained. Not only does it feel good, it seems to have real results. Together, the couple lost 85 pounds and Frank was taken off of four medications.

While yoga wasn’t their sole source of treatment, the couple believed it helped in their recovery — and Ornish, the creator of the program, told CNN if care like this isn’t reimbursable by insurance companies, it won’t remain sustainable as a health practice.

“The reason that I spent 16 years working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to achieve Medicare coverage for our program is that I knew that most insurance companies follow Medicare’s lead. In other words, if Medicare covered our program, most other insurance companies would, as well,” said Ornish.

Fitness Programs and Yoga: Another great example of yoga coverage, which happens to be a part of some Medicare plans, is the SilverSneakers program.

SilverSneakers offers free or discounted gym memberships to seniors that are 65 and older. Within the participating SilverSneakers gyms, seniors have access to everything from general gym access to weights, group classes and even yoga sessions.

Fitness programs aren’t automatically offered by Medicare, so you will need to check if your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement provider includes one.

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What Are the Advantages of Yoga Included in Health Insurance Plans?

Yoga Promotes Physical Health: the healing and health properties of yoga are becoming more widely recognized. Reports show that yoga can help patients lower blood pressure, treat heart disease, manage pain and teach those with asthma to breathe better.

While yoga might not be the cure-all for these chronic illnesses and serious diseases, used as a therapy it can provide significant support to patients.

In speaking to the Burlington Free Press about the possibility of the state of Vermont’s health care covering yoga, Majken Tranby, a yoga studio owner and advocate, said she thinks there wouldn’t be just less doctor visits, but even that “people would make better food choices.”

Yoga Has Proven Emotional Advantages: Stress related health problems are responsible for up to 80 percent of doctor visits — only behind heart disease and cancer, according to a Harvard study.

Despite stress being a huge health hindrance, the same Harvard study found that as few as 3 percent of doctors speak to their patients about how to reduce stress in their lives. Yoga has been used to treat stress, depression, bad sleep, anxiety and even PTSD, promoting relaxation and enabling people to have more mindfulness.

Yoga Supports Long-Term Healthy Living: Once you learn the basics of yoga, there are many poses and stretches you can do at home to treat chronic illness and promote healthier living.

Yoga could be seen as a great investment for insurers. These practices can provide long-lasting results for their members after an initial investment. Plus, wouldn’t it be great to make it easier to take positive steps for your health?

Yoga Could Actually Save Insurers Money: This brings us to the point that yoga used as a treatment has the potential to actually save insurers money. In fact, Dr. James E. Stahl and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital found that patients who participated in an 8 week yoga and meditation practice used 43% fewer medical services than the previous year — saving health insurance companies an average $2,360 per person in just emergency room visits alone.

As for the bigger picture? Well, the team estimates these programs could translate into health savings of $640 to $25,500 per patient each year. But, Dr. Stahl does note while there’s a lot of great studies on the health benefits right now, more research does need to be done on the economics.

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Yoga Wouldn’t Be The First Holistic Therapy Covered by Health Insurance

While yoga might have once been perceived as a hobby or out-of-pocket exercise expense, it doesn’t necessarily have to remain that way, and we are seeing that shift in real time. In fact, in the recent past, other holistic therapies like massage therapy and acupuncture have been recognized and covered by certain insurers for their health benefits.

So while health insurance companies and patients remain unsure about the benefits today, a precedent has already been set with coverage for other forms of preventative treatment.

It goes to show that yoga is available in health insurance programs across the country, even if indirectly. Now, we have to just wait and see if inclusive fitness programs will spread.

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