Albertan Massage Therapists Impacted By New Insurance Requirements

Wendy Jo DavisA change in insurance requirements by two of Alberta’s biggest insurance companies has the potential to impact massage therapist salaries across the province. In October, Manulife began requiring that massage therapists have 2,200 hours of training education to qualify for insurance reimbursement; Alberta Blue Cross will do the same in May 2014. Previously, only 250 hours of training/education was required.

This change is expected to have a serious effect on the estimated 3,000 Albertan massage therapists who do not meet the new requirements. Although the rule change will not preclude massage therapists from treating their clients, the loss of reimbursement means that the entire cost of treatment will have to be paid from clients’ pockets – putting these massage therapists at a severe disadvantage versus other therapists that remain eligible for insurance coverage. Right now, clients pay about the half the cost of the treatment, with the remainder covered by insurance; the change in rules means that the cost for seeking massage therapy treatment from an uncovered provider will effectively double.

The obvious impact that the insurance rule change will have on massage therapist salaries has provoked strong reactions from the affected therapists. Many therapists who have been practicing for years will now have to go back to school and/or pass a competency exam to qualify for insurance reimbursement and remain competitive. Some massage therapists feel they are being pushed out of their profession and told they are no longer competent to practice. Other massage therapists, however, applaud the decision. They feel that the change in training requirements enhances the professional statute of massage therapy and brings Alberta’s requirements in line with the rest of the country.

Will this change in Alberta insurance requirements result in higher quality care for consumers or simply reduce the number of massage therapists and result in increased costs? Only time will tell.