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Traditional Chinese Medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, and insurance

Pacific Prime takes a look at popular alternative medicine practices in Singapore and how health insurance plans will cover them.

Posted on Sep 16, 2015 by rob.mcbroom

Singapore is a vibrant community that sees a near harmonious blend of different cultures and ideals living together in one of the most important cities in Asia. While thoroughly modern in almost every aspect, there is still a thriving history that sees many traditional practices well established and even growing. One great example of this is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) along with other long-established practices like homeopathy, and naturopathy.

While there is little doubt as to the popularity of these types of medicine in Singapore, a large number expats hold the belief that western medicine is usually the better option in all cases. That being said, over the past half decade or so traditional medicine has started to become an increasingly popular option. In fact, we have noticed that at least 2 out of 10 claims we see are for TCM and complementary therapies, and this number will continue to grow as is paralleled by the fact that the number of TCM practitioners in the city has been steadily increasing.  

With this increased popularity has come some confusion over TCM and the other popular forms of alternative medicine in Singapore. To help, here is an overview of the five most common forms of alternative medicine in Singapore (TCM, Osteopathy, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, and Acupuncture) and whether insurers will cover these forms of medicine in Singapore.  

About Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM is actually a broad range of medical practices that share common concepts and have been developed in China over the past 2,000 years or more. It normally includes forms of herbal medicine, massage, exercise, and dietary theory practiced in order to bring one's body into alignment or harmony. Due to its increasing popularity, some TCM practices and ideas are being integrated into modern medicine techniques.

In Singapore, TCM is monitored by a statutory board called the TCM Practitioners Board (TCMPB), which is part of the Ministry of Health. All TCM practitioners in Singapore must be certified by the board. Beyond that, all TCM practitioners must pass the Singapore TCM Physicians Registration Examination and practice at a registered clinic.  

Because of this increased regulation and safety, many in Singapore find that TCM when combined with western medicine can be one of the best ways to heal.

About Acupuncture

Acupuncture is actually seen to be a large part of TCM and is the insertion of needles into the skin at specific areas of the body with the goal of reducing pain or alleviating other maladies. While popular the world over, most people tend to use acupuncture in conjunction with another form of care. For example, some cancer patients will use acupuncture to reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea/vomiting.

While acupuncture is a key component of TCM, it can also be found being practiced by western medicine practitioners as a treatment of certain conditions e.g., lower back pain, after a proper diagnosis has been made.   

About Osteopathy

Osteopathy is the physical manipulation of the body's bones and muscle tissue in order to relieve pain. Over the past decades Osteopathy has actually evolved into two vastly different branches. The first is a medical profession which originated in the US and is practiced by osteopathic physicians, who are fully trained and licensed doctors (with the designation of D.O.) capable of practicing modern medicine. The second is carried out by osteopaths who are not usually trained physicians and relies on non-invasive manual therapies such as massage.

In Singapore, the vast majority of osteopathy treatment follows the second branch of treatment with most practitioners holding at least a bachelor's in health sciences or masters in osteopathy. That being said, you will still find trained medical doctors in the city offering osteopathic treatment.

About Homeopathy

Homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine that follows the belief that the human body can heal itself and that "like cures like" meaning that if something causes symptoms in a healthy person, a smaller dose of that same thing can help to cure a sick person. Regardless of whether this form of alternative medicine works or not, there are people out there in Singapore who pursue homeopathic medicine either as a full treatment method, or in conjunction with modern medicine.  

About Naturopathy

Naturopathy is a form of alternative treatment which follows the core concept of natural treatments. This includes a wide array of different types of treatment including homeopathy, acupuncture, and some TCM components like herbalism and dietary theory.

Generally speaking, it is the idea of using holistic and non-invasive methods (e.g., no surgery, or drugs) to promote healing. Of all the other forms of alternative medicine, naturopathy is often seen to be as the closest to TCM. There are a number of naturopaths in Singapore, some may be medical doctors while others are simply practitioners. Unlike TCM however, there is no real regulation available for naturopaths.  

Is alternative medicine covered by my health insurance?

As alternative medicine continues to become increasingly popular, Pacific Prime has seen an increase in not only claims but general questions about alternative medicine and insurance. The most common question asked is whether it is covered or not. To set the record straight, we asked our Client Services Manager, Mari Galvez whether this type of medicine is covered or not.

She explained, "There is no straight answer to this question, but in Singapore many International Health Insurance providers are starting to include coverage for alternative medicine in their plans. Like most other types of coverage however, what exactly is covered will be different for each provider. BUPA & InterGlobal for example cover homeopath treatments but not naturopath treatments while AXA covers both. The key here is to look at your policy documents to figure out exactly what is covered and if there are any limits as some providers will limit the number of visits to an alternative medicine doctor. That being said, some alternative treatments like health spa and massage services such as ayurvedic treatments for example, are usually not covered."

She continued, "Another common question we get is if treatments like acupuncture or TCM require referrals from a doctor. In Singapore, this is normally not necessary as obviously these are two different schools of thought from modern medicine. That being said, it is important to note that these treatments are different from chiropractors or physio treatment which do usually require a referral from a GP before insurers will cover costs."

If you are looking to learn more about alternative medicine, or for a plan that will cover it, please contact our experts at Pacific Prime Singapore today.  

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