Friday 18 January 2019

Pay alternative therapy health bills with conventional plans

You may only have to pay fraction of cost for treatments like homeopathy and acupuncture if you've got the right private insurance, writes Louise McBride

Cover for alternative and complementary therapy however varies widely between insurers and plans
Cover for alternative and complementary therapy however varies widely between insurers and plans
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Many of us turn to alternative therapy at some point and it ends up costing us more than it needs to - it is, in fact, possible to claim back a good chunk of the cost of the treatment on our private health insurance. Strides made by private health insurers in recent years in relation to the coverage of alternative therapy mean that the cost of a visit to a homeopathist or acupuncturist might be covered just, or almost, as much as a trip to your GP.

Cover for alternative and complementary therapy however varies widely between insurers and plans. "All insurers now include good cover towards the cost of eligible alternative treatments, but you need to be on the right plan," said Dermot Goode, health cover analyst with "Most plans cover popular treatments such as acupuncture, osteopathy and chiropractic care. You'll also get cover on some plans for occupational therapy, reflexology, and chiropody."


Laya and Irish Life Health (ILH) cover homeopathy on a number of their plans - though cover varies widely, depending on the plan. With some Laya plans, you're covered for up to 75pc of the cost of homeopathy consultation fees - up to a limit of 12 visits a year.

These plans include Health Secure Plus, Care Select, 360 Care and 360 Care Select. Other Laya plans -such as Simply Connect, Ideal Simplicity, Total Health Choice and Complete Simplicity - cover half of the cost of homeopathy visits (up to a limit of 12 visits a year). Some Laya plans, such as Company Care Advanced, offer no homeopathy cover at all, however.

ILH covers homeopathy on a selection of its plans including Health Plan 09, which covers €40 of the cost of a visit - up to a maximum of eight combined visits a year. (A combined visit is where there is a contribution towards the cost of visits to a number of different practitioners and the member can claim back the cost of a maximum number of visits combined across those practitioners.)

ILH's Business Plan Extra covers half of the cost of homeopathy visits - though the cover is limited to €30 per visit and up to a maximum of 24 combined visits a year. There is cover for half of the cost of homeopathy visits under Better Ultra Health ILH and Best Ultimate Active ILH - up to a maximum of 13 combined visits a year.

VHI offers no cover for homeopathy.

Herbal medicine

Some people believe herbal medicine can help treat skin conditions such as eczema, as well as stomach upset, colds and other medical conditions. None of the health insurers offer any cover for the cost of herbal medicine though.

You may however get cover for visits to a medical herbalist - if you're with ILH. "Medical herbalists are not covered under any VHI or Laya Healthcare policy," said Barbara Sheahan, health insurance expert with "ILH is the only provider which covers a medical herbalist, under its alternative practitioner benefit. This benefit is only covered under certain plans and is not available on ILH's tailored plans range."

Some ILH plans which cover medical herbalists are Be Fit 3, Health Plan 13 and Health Plan 16.1.


The cost of allergy and food intolerance tests can easily run into the hundreds. Indeed, some tests cost more than €400. Many private health insurance plans have no - or only limited - cover for allergy tests.

Many people don't get, or need to be, admitted to hospital for an allergy test. However, Laya Healthcare doesn't cover allergy tests if you're not staying overnight as a patient in a hospital when getting such tests.

"We will cover allergy testing if carried out on an inpatient basis (where a patient stays overnight) in a hospital setting - depending on the member's scheme and level of cover," said a spokeswoman for Laya.

ILH covers allergy tests on some of its plans. These include Nuture Plan ILH, Better Ultra Health ILH, Best Smart ILH and on these plans, the cover is provided for outpatients (patients who don't require an overnight hospital stay). Better Ultra Health ILH and Best Smart ILH offer up to €200 cover a year towards the cost of allergy tests while Nurture Plan ILH only provides cover of up to €50 a year.

Another ILH plan, Day-to-Day Most, provides up to €80 cover a year for allergy tests. (Day-to-Day Most only covers daily medical expenses and does not cover hospital treatment.)

A number of VHI plans cover half the cost of allergy tests - as long as the tests are claimed as a day-to-day or outpatient medical expense; and carried out by a GP, consultant, or pathologist - and "in an approved facility". Some of the VHI plans which cover allergy tests include One Plan, First Plan Plus; and the HealthPlus, Family, Company and PMI plans.

Don't overlook health cash plans (plans designed to cover everyday medical expenses rather than bills for hospital treatment). The cover for allergy tests and alternative treatment on some health cash plans (such as those offered by HSF Health Plan) can be better than it is on many private health insurance plans.

Special diets

Some people follow special diets to help manage allergies, food intolerances or specific diseases (such as Celiac disease). Special diets are not covered by VHI, Laya or ILH however - even if the food is prescribed by a doctor.

Your insurer may however cover the cost of a visit to a dietician - this is the case with some VHI plans for example.

Recommended plans

Goode recommended either of these plans for good alternative therapy cover: VHI's Company Plan Plus Level 1.3, Laya's Simply Connect, or ILH's 4D Health 2. VHI's Company Plan Plus Level 1.3 costs €1,128 per adult a year and covers half the cost of visits to chiropodists, osteopaths, dieticians, speech therapists and acupuncturists. Laya's Simply Connect plan, which costs €1,180 per adult, also covers half of the cost of visits to these practitioners, as well as visits to homeopathists - up to a limit of €1,000 a year.

ILH's 4D Health 2 plan, which costs €1,272 per adult, covers half of the cost of visits to a range of alternative therapists including acupuncturists and osteopaths - up to a limit of seven combined visits a year. "ILH has some interesting additional benefits available for things like Reiki, massage therapy and nutritionist costs," said Goode.

Goode also recommended the HSF Health Plan's One Scheme 3. This is a health cash plan which costs €515 a year. It covers up to €240 a year of the cost of allergy tests, up to €370 a year of allergy test and health screening consultations, and up to €300 a year of alternative treatments.

Sheahan recommended ILH's Best Ultimate Active, Laya's 360 Care and VHI's Company Plan Extra Level 1 for an individual seeking good cover for alternative therapies and treatments.

Remember, as cover varies so much, should you favour alternative therapy, do your homework when choosing private health insurance.

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