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Massage Today
April, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 04

Ensuring Equal Access to Massage

Washington's "Every Category of Provider" Law Upheld Again

By Editorial Staff

Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle, Washington-based insurance provider, has settled a class-action lawsuit by agreeing to reimburse members for money spent on visits to massage therapists, acupuncturists and naturopaths from June 1996 - December 2002.

Members will be reimbursed for the full amount paid per visit during that time period (minus an $8.65 copayment).1

The settlement stems from a class-action lawsuit that accused Group Health of illegally requiring that members exhaust medical treatment before receiving treatment from massage therapists and other alternative care providers. Washington's 1996 "Every Category of Provider" law requires insurers to cover services provided by all of the state's licensed categories of health care providers on an equal basis.2

Group Health touts itself as "The nation's second largest consumer-governed, nonprofit health care system," providing coverage for approximately 585,000 of the state's nearly 6 million residents. It is the third major insurer to settle following alleged violations of the 1996 law, joining Premera Blue Cross, which settled for $2.9 million, and Regence Blue Shield, which settled for $30.4 million.2,3 In a prepared statement, Group Health noted that it would be making changes to its alternative care benefits "similar to those made by [the] other insurers."1

According to Rick Spoonemore, attorney for the law firm that represented Group Health members in the suit, the settlement has been granted preliminary approval in state and federal court, with final approval to be sought in June. Spoonemore also noted that while only approximately 10 percent of the nearly 1 million people covered by Group Health from 1996-2002 are eligible for reimbursement, the total dollar value the insurer may end up paying may reach as high as $10 million.4

References

  1. Group Health settles "alternative care" lawsuit. Puget Sound Business Journal, Feb. 11, 2003.
  2. Group Health patients win refunds. The Seattle Times, Feb. 12, 2003.
  3. Washington state massage therapists win again. Regence BlueShield agrees to $30 million settlement. Massage Today, May 2001: www.massagetoday.com/archives/2001/05/02.html.
  4. Group Health settles alternative medicine case. Bremerton Sun, Feb. 12, 2003.

 

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