State Senate approves naturopathic coverage

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(Host) The Vermont Senate has given its strong approval to legislation that requires health insurance companies to provide coverage for naturopathic physicians who offer “medically necessary” services to their patients. The final vote on the bill was 25 to 2.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Backers of the bill say the legislation may help reduce health care costs in the state because it will encourage thousands of Vermonters to seek preventative care from naturopathic physicians – these are health care professionals who often provide alternative therapies from traditional doctors.

All naturopathic physicians are licensed by the state of Vermont. The legislation requires all health insurance companies to extend coverage for naturopathic care as long as the services that are provided are deemed to be “medically necessary.”

Chittenden Senator Hinda Miller urged her colleagues to support the bill:

(Miller) “I think that in our search and journey for the health of the people in this state we need to provide access to these naturopaths who offer us a different way of looking at our health less dependent on drugs and more dependent on other aspects of health.”

(Kinzel) A number of insurance companies oppose the bill because they believe it will lead to higher health care costs. The lead sponsor of the bill – Washington Senator Ann Cummings – says there’s no evidence that this will happen:

(Cummings) “We’re always concerned when you do anything that it might expand the costs of health care, but nobody could really see where it would. The only place we might have a glitch is that if there are a large number of people who have insurance who have been paying for these tests out of pocket and would now have their insurance pay for it. But we have no data and we highly doubt because of the costs of these tests that a lot of people are doing it.”

(Kinzel) The Senate defeated an effort to have the legislation apply to participants of the Vermont Health Access Program. The measure now goes to the House for its consideration.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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