With employers already facing enough cost pressures around their benefits plans, adding additional coverage for paramedical services may be a daunting prospect. But with employees often looking for coverage for a broader range of services, is athletic therapy worth considering?

The Canadian Athletic Therapists Association, in fact, helpfully provides employees with a sample letter on its website that they can submit to their employers to advocate for coverage. “Athletic therapy treatments are based on the scientifically supported sport medicine model, an active approach to rehabilitation that focuses on finding and treating the cause of conditions not just the symptoms, as well as the patient taking an active approach to rehabilitating their injury versus a passive, therapist-dependent approach or reliance on modalities,” the letter states.

“This improves the efficiency of treatments, which can benefit in faster recovery, faster return to work, fewer disability claims and decreased chance of re-injury.”

Read: What are the goals of massage therapy as an employee benefit?

Not everyone sees it that way, however. The issue of covering athletic therapy arose in a recent arbitration involving a collective agreement for Toronto firefighters. Although the ruling extended paramedical benefits to include athletic therapy, the employer nominee on the arbitration panel disagreed and indicated that only two of the 80 full-time firefighter departments in Ontario permitted athletic therapy coverage. “There is no reason to expand the scope of this based on the comparables — it is a breakthrough benefit.  No evidence was submitted to show any demonstrated need for this type of service,” wrote John Saunders, the city’s nominee on the arbitration panel.

Erin MacLean, a certified athletic therapist at the Elliott Sports Medicine Clinic in Burlington, Ont., says most clients at her clinic wouldn’t be able to see the difference between physiotherapy and athletic therapy. Physiotherapy, she notes, is more manual-based. “We do manual therapy as well but we not only treat the symptoms; we also try to figure out why it happened and try to prevent it from happening again.”

Read: What is driving the rising demand for paramedical services?

But some consultants aren’t buying it. Yafa Sakkejha, general manager of Beneplan Inc., says employers shouldn’t cover athletic therapy. “Why would they? Why would they spend money on another category of practitioners who are trying to bill the insurance system as much as possible, when they’re actually billing the system of businesses and small-business owners who pay the bill,” she says.

Sakkejha feels employees exploit paramedical benefits. “Most of the time they’re legitimate, but many, many times it’s illegitimate,” she says. “We have a huge problem of plan members saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got this money and I should use it for something.’ It’s so difficult to see who is genuine and who is not.”

Another negative is the inevitable cost of extending coverage, which will have an impact on pricing when an employer renews its benefits contract. Still, Shane Hohlweg, a principal and benefits consultant at TRG Group Benefits & Pensions Inc., can see the merits.

Read: Which health benefits do employees really want?

“The merits of having [athletic therapy] as an employer — especially if you’re in a labour-intensive type of industry — is that you’re giving the opportunity for your employees to be more proactive in their health management versus reactive,” he says.

Although Hohlweg doesn’t have many employers “banging on the door” to demand athletic therapy, there are a few that have raised the issue. “Employees are going to their HR manager inquiring why athletic therapy is not included as part of the core package of their paramedical practice.”

MacLean has seen employers offering athletic therapy as a separate line item on their paramedical roster or as an alternative to physiotherapy. Employers can even restructure their benefits plan design to add in a health-care spending account, says Hohlweg. “If your plan design is $250 per practitioner, you could offer $250 under an HCSA and align it so that it’s typically only [used] for athletic therapy.”

Read: A creative way to use wellness credits to boost productivity

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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Gord:

Yes it should be added to the benefit package, it is far more beneficial than many others already included. There hasn’t been historic demand but now that many plans are encouraging and even funding wellness initiatives like running, gym memberships, participative sports etc. more than ever, employees are coming in contact with the athletic therapist that keeps their pulled and strained muscles, turned ankles, sprained shoulders, lower back strains and other so-called sport related injuries from preventing them from continuing and also from missing work. Prevention is the future and most would do well to reduce massage and add this.

Wednesday, August 30 at 10:45 pm | Reply

Rob:

There is no question that AT should be added to a benefits plan. The statement that AT’s are just trying to “bill the insurance system” is very short-sighted, and wildly inaccurate. AT’s have almost the exact same qualifications and education as a PT and in my experience, are much more hands on in terms of actual therapy than the majority of PT’s. AT services are also more cost effective than other forms of therapy. If anything, adding a combined AT/PT maximum to a benefits plan would make more sense and allows employees to engage their therapy preference. And as Gord notes above, prevention is key — and that is a primary focus of AT.

Thursday, August 31 at 10:54 am | Reply

rick:

There is no increase in cost to the employer or insurance company if the service is added within a set fee. If its $500 for Physiotherapy or Athletic Therapy the costs are the same. Athletic Therapy takes a stronger approach with corrective exercises, strengthening and mobility often proving to be more effective long term.

Thursday, August 31 at 3:00 pm | Reply

Erika:

Adding AT makes good sense, especially in the context of a combined benefit with physiotherapy (PT). Their scope of practice and approach for the average patient will look very much the same. I would also submit that the cost-effectiveness of AT would be better than PT in a significant % of local community clinics. In addition, PT treatments are frequently “delegated” to Registered Kinesiologists and ATs working in PT clinics. Patients are already being treated by ATs with minimal to no supervision, however the patient is billed for the services of a PT at a higher rate. Including AT would provide an incentive for competitive pricing, helping to contain costs, while increasing access for policy holders/patients.

Finally insinuating that paramedical practitioners at large are just trying to “bill the insurance system” is false, not to mention insulting. If the person who provided this statement has seen fradulent activity, the appropriate course is to report it and allow the regulatory body to investigate, not postulate without evidence on a public forum in an effort to shame thousands of hardworking, regulated professionals by painting them with an unscrupulous brush. It’s akin to a healthcare provider writing an article insinuating that benefit companies are trying to maneuver policy holders out of coverage that they’ve paid for. There are times where policies are misunderstood or information from insurance companies is incorrectly conveyed and it results in disappointment for the policy holder, however, it doesn’t equate to intentional efforts to hoard premiums at the expense of policy holders. This quote is biased, baseless and unprofessional. It should be retracted.

Friday, September 01 at 2:43 am | Reply

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