Nearly half (43 per cent) of plan members have submitted at least one claim for massage therapy in the past year, according to the 2016 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey.

The finding is leading some of the report’s advisory board members to ask whether employers should provide the benefit at all. One of them is Peter Gove, innovation leader of health management at Green Shield Canada. “Other interventions show much stronger medical evidence, yet are not covered,” he said, referring to exercise as an example. In comparison, there’s still relatively little scientific evidence backing the positive effects of massage therapy, according to the study.

“We know that this benefit has proven to be a popular one, with 43 per cent of members having said they used the benefit,” said Barbara Martinez, practice leader for benefits solutions and group benefits at Great-West Life Assurance Co. and a member of the advisory board, during the survey’s launch in Toronto on June 14. “While plan members are more likely to use massage therapy to treat a diagnosed or self-diagnosed injury, 50 per cent report this as their main reason, compared to 38 per cent who use massage mainly for relaxation or to relieve tension.”

Read: Should employers reduce massage coverage in their benefits plans?

Martinez added that age is a “major factor,” with younger employees more likely to use massage.

“These results caused considerable discussion in our advisory board meeting as to the value of benefits that don’t meet the traditional definition of medically necessary,” she said.

Still, with 38 per cent of employee respondents citing a desire to relax or relieve tension and around the same percentage (40 per cent) of plan members saying the workplace negatively affects their ability to manage stress, some say massage therapy can be very useful.

“So here we have plan members telling us that they’re using their plan to help them relax. Is that not a good thing?” asked advisory board member Anne Nicoll, vice-president of business development at Medavie Blue Cross.

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

Another member of the survey’s advisory board, Chris Bonnett, principal at H3 Consulting, argued that massage therapy is “a valued benefit for significant segments of the population.” The survey found respondents aged 55 to 64 were more likely to cite conditions or injuries (58 per cent) as their main reason for massages.

Art Babcock, senior vice-president at Aon Hewitt, stressed that ultimately, employers should have a strategy for creating measurable objectives and observing results when it comes to benefits. “Without that, it’s open season on benefits that do not meet the traditional definition of ‘medically necessary.’ Some plan sponsors may find it hard to draw a straight line between massages and a better work environment, in which case, why should their plan pay for it for everybody? It could be a choice that employees pay for with a health spending account.”

How do the 2016 results compare to related questions five years ago?

Sanofi’s 2011 survey noted that massage therapy was one of the fastest-growing benefits. But while 83 per cent of plan sponsors said they provided coverage for paramedical services, usage rates were just 49 per cent.

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Read more findings from the 2016 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com
See all comments Recent Comments

Marcel Poitras:

Clearly NO. Massage is most of the time a wellness benefit, not a therapy. When I see that you can get a massage at the Trudeau airport while you wait for your flight, and get receipt to claim from your insurer for it, it is clearly not medically necessary. Doing claims audit, I have seen claims from whole families getting massages on sunday mornings at fancy tourist resorts. And when you look at the web pages of massages therapists illustrated with healthy smiling babies, you can have serious doubts about the medical value of services provided. My bestimate is that close to 75% of costs can be saved if coverage is limited to the treatment of a duly diagnosed illness or injury.

Thursday, June 16 at 11:55 am | Reply

p serpell:

I believe that m/t should used to treat specific conditions and not for use as a recreational release just cause you can. all visits to m/t should be accompanied by a treatment plan.
Thank you

Saturday, June 18 at 10:33 am

Terri:

Interestingly enough (state and trait) anxiety and depression are the two things that ARE backed by research related to Massage Therapy.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3091449/

So, while a patient/benefits claimant may be citing ‘relaxation’ what they may actually be talking about is sub-clinical anxiety. Stepping outside of “Massage Therapy” and broadening to look at TOUCH there is a body of evidence regarding touch as an integral part of physical and mental and emotional well being.

Thursday, June 16 at 2:39 pm | Reply

Kerri:

Massage Therapy is a three year program in Ontario. At the school I went to, it was it required I take the same cpr certification as other health care providers such as nurses and paramedics (level HCP). We spent 3 semesters or 1.5 years learning pathology- the effects of diabetes on the peripheral nervous system, osteoporosis on the bones, physical manifestations of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and so on. We spent two semesters learning orthopedic tests- these are the ones that can indicate to me that your discs in your low back may be damaged if you come in complaining that your low back hurts when you strain to defecate, or that perhaps your chronic knee pain, knee clicking and pain both extending and fully bending the knee (such as when kneeling) could indicate your cartilage on the inside of the knee is wearing off because of a malfunction at the articulation. Yes, massage is frequently used for relaxation. That does not take away from the fact that we frequently treat and correct musculoskeletal and other types of pain, and provide the client with education needed to keep them pain free, healthy, and capable of performing in their role at their jobs. Also, paediatric massage has been shown to help relieve gas cramps/colick, enhance the bond between caregiver and infant (the rmt usually teaches mom or dad how to do this at home), and helps infants brain growth and weight gain. I would smile too.

Thursday, June 16 at 6:03 pm | Reply

Ann:

Wasn’t a fan until I threw out my back and couldn’t walk or sit comfortably for months. Got a prescription from the doctor so why not include it the same way my muscle relaxants were covered? It was 100% therapy during this time. It helped immensely. It also helps those with chronic pain.

Thursday, June 16 at 9:14 pm | Reply

Marcel Poitras:

This is exactly what I mean: keep it for bona-fide medical reasons only and save 75%!

Friday, June 17 at 11:56 am

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