New study highlights economic benefits of massage therapy, health care integration

Massage Therapy Canada staff
June 02, 2015
By Massage Therapy Canada staff
Integrating massage therapy into medical care can effectively reduce health-care costs, according to a new study by John Dunham & Associates (JDA), a firm specializing in tax and regulatory economic impact studies. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has released the JDA report in a bid to “reinforce” the relationship between massage therapy and costs of care.
The JDA analysis examined 2014 data from the U.S. federal Medicaid and Medicare systems to see if patient care costs can be reduced by providing better access and coverage for medically prescribed massage therapy. Based on an econometric analysis that takes into account a number of demographic and economic variables, the weighted average cost for 19 specific types of treatments was about $64 lower per treatment in states where massage is covered as part of Medicaid.

“The research findings indicate that integrating massage therapy into ongoing care has a positive outcome for patients and in many cases lowers health-care costs,” said Jeff Smoot, AMTA president. “The information in this study can help support a national dialogue on the detailed cost effectiveness of massage therapy and provide a starting point for conversations among patients and their health-care providers.”

According to the JDA report, when the total number of treatments is analyzed cumulatively across approximately 66 million outpatient services, the research indicates that private insurers could save as much as $4.55 billion in costs annually, if they were to cover massage therapy nationally. These potential savings could reach as high as $439 million in Texas, and $426 million in California. Government third-party payers could also see substantial savings – as much as $1.39 billion if all 46 states that do not cover massage under their Medicaid programs were to do so.

For individuals, the benefits of massage therapy accrue when taken as part of a comprehensive treatment system, and the data indicate that visiting a massage therapist in place of additional hours at the hospital or doctor's office, or substituting massage in place of some other treatment, is where the savings truly emerge, the AMTA said.

Medical costs have been rising faster than inflation, in part because the number of health practitioners is limited. According to John Dunham, managing partner at JDA, “While a model of this type cannot predict causality, economic theory suggests that the savings are the result of the benefits of increasing the supply of practitioners to meet the demands of the health-care marketplace. By covering massage therapy as part of a system of integrative care, the potential pool of practitioners would grow, adding as many as 300,000 massage therapists and approximately 16,760 massage therapy firms.”

In integrated care models, health professionals and institutions that provide services to patients work together to share information and coordinate care. The JDA research report shows that the practice of allowing massage therapy as insured coverage is correlated, for most treatments examined, with lower coverage costs when controlling for demographic and economic factors. The channels through which increased coverage may result in reduced costs are based on a straightforward assessment of supply and demand in the medical treatment market, the AMTA said.

A growing number of medical centers throughout the U.S. now fully integrate massage therapy into patient care, including the Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Duke Integrative Medicine program, Cleveland Clinic and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

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