With a new state, comes new health coverage

A few months ago, my family moved to California from Louisiana. We love it. Some of the reasons are obvious and expected--we are minutes from the beach, we can feel the calm of small town living, we love the average climate of 70 degrees, and we enjoy spending time outside in nature. Coming from the average steamy day in New Orleans of 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity, these are most welcome changes.

Then there are the seemingly smaller, but still impactful, changes we deeply appreciate. Case in point: I've been getting acupuncture treatments for various reasons during the last seven years. Each visit in New Orleans cost me $80 out of my own pocket. Despite not being covered by insurance, I continued to see my acupuncturist because I believe in the value of this type of alternative medicine and I'm witness to its ability to heal many different health ailments.

Here in California, though, acupuncture costs me a whopping $11.25. Same treatments, same approach, same form of medicine. The only difference is my insurance now covers acupuncture, so I'm only responsible for the copay. Amazing score for me, if I do say so myself.

But here's the extra special part of our California insurer covering acupuncture--my husband is now willing to receive acupuncture too. Based on my previous history, it's obvious I'm willing to seek acupuncture regardless of its price because I think the benefits far outweigh the costs. My husband, on the other hand, is no fan of paying for insurance coverage only to use medical professionals not included within our policy, all the while paying big costs for that care.

Despite hearing me constantly espouse the virtues of acupuncture, including amazing perks like relaxation, deep sleep and a feeling of overall well being, my husband has been loathe to check out this ancient Chinese medicine because of the costs. It simply goes against his practical approach to life.

So imagine my glee when, after telling him how little I was charged during my first acupuncture visit, he wanted to make an appointment for himself. He's had chronic shoulder pain I'm confident acupuncture could help ease. Thanks to our new health plan, he is finally going to take advantage of this alternative care and hopefully see some transformational results.

And the benefits don't stop there. By seeking out preventive care, which acupuncture is definitely considered, my husband could actually be saving our insurance company money in the long run. If, say, his shoulder pain decreases with acupuncture treatments, he won't have to consult a specialist for an opinion, something he's been considering for a while. That specialist could potentially recommend surgery--the mother of all medical costs for insurers. Although that's just a hypothetical situation, it's not an unlikely one.

So, really, acupuncture as a covered health benefit is a win-win for both my family and our health insurer.

I mention all this not because I need to further proclaim my love of acupuncture. That's been accomplished in this column before. I bring it all up because it's a perfect example of how drastically different insurance coverage is across this country.

State requirements and consumer populations certainly play a role in benefits provided by each insurer. But isn't there a way more people could experiment with different approaches to healthcare, especially alternative practices, without breaking their personal bank account? Why do I have to move halfway across the country just to reasonably afford my preferred version of healthcare that, incidentally, has stood the test of time for thousands of years?

Fortunately for me, California is one of the states that has included acupuncture and other preventive care like chiropractice in its essential health benefits all insurers selling plans on health insurance exchanges must cover. So even if my particular insurance company didn't already cover acupuncture, I could buy a policy in the individual market that does provide acupuncture (because I'm a freelancer) via the state-based online marketplace.

I'm extremely grateful for these choices and insurance coverage. My only sadness comes in realizing not everyone is granted these options. Everyone should at least have the choice to receive whatever type of healthcare they find best benefits them and their unique medical situation. I hope to see that one day in the near future.  - Dina (@HealthPayer)

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