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Harvard Pilgrim adds naturopathy to coverage

Union Leader Correspondent

February 10. 2013 5:37PM
Lisa Lee of Danville gets an ear inspection from Dr. Carrie Chojnowski, a naturopath at Northeast Integrative Medicine in Bedford. (SIMON RIOS PHOTO)

NASHUA - Naturopathy (natural medicine) and allopathy (mainstream medicine) have at times played antagonists, opposite sides in a turf war over what's right and wrong with medicine. But to Dr. William Brewster, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care's assistant director in New Hampshire, they are two sides of the same coin.

"Medicine is in evolution," he said. "What we would accept years ago as classical doctor has really expanded, and I think the state of New Hampshire has been very forward-thinking on that."

Now Harvard Pilgrim will cover naturopathy, which they view as a complement to conventional medicine.

Though it is required by the state for providers of tailored insurance plans, Harvard Pilgrim, which doesn't offer individual plans, has extended its members coverage for naturopathic doctors.

"We were not required by state law to cover them because we didn't write that kind of policy," Brewster said. "But we decided that it still seemed like the right thing to do."

Naturopathic Dr. Jaclyn Chasse is the co-founder of Northeast Integrative Medicine in Bedford, one of the providers covered by Harvard Pilgrim. She also sees Western and holistic medicine as complementary practices.

"I don't think that they need to exist in competition at all," Chasse said. "Right now, if you put med intervention on a pyramid, the foundations for health really is diet and lifestyle. And as you move up that pyramid, at the top should be surgery . and then there's this whole spectrum in between."

She said the best medicine is when medical professionals from different backgrounds come together.

Though N.D.'s carry out many of the standard procedures of M.D.'s, the keys to naturopathic care are diet and behavior. Chasse said some conventional doctors bring these up, but too often it's just pills and procedures and little mention of the lifestyle choices that can serve as preventive remedies.

"We really want to teach patients how to live in a way that's healthier to avoid onset of diseases, and if they have a condition . how to get it in control through changing their behavior," she said.

Many prescription drugs are derived from nature, such as aspirin, which was developed based on the chemicals found in willow bark. Naturopaths provide raw ingredients, such as fish oil, in addition to pharmaceuticals.

She said Harvard Pilgrim's decision to extend coverage to naturopathy is welcome in the community, noting that Anthem does not provide coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act, however, a non-discrimination clause will make it likely that insurance providers will be required to cover N.D.'s in 2014, she said.

It could also mean significant savings for the insurance company; more healthy patients equals less costly interventions. Chasse said the integration of naturopathy can reduce health-care costs by 30 percent - $2,000 spent on naturopathic care can prevent a $50,000 bypass surgery down the line.

It's all about meal plans, dietary guides, exercise training; all of which are provided at Northeast Integrative Medicine.

"Those are all things where if we could teach people how to live better, it would have a huge impact," Chasse said.

But Brewster said the decision to cover naturopaths wasn't a financial one.

He places naturopaths in the spectrum of doctors, from primary care physicians to osteopathic specialists.

"There's always concerns with, 'Who are these people? This isn't traditional medicine.' These are very well-trained, scientifically-trained people," he said. "Naturopathic doctors have a strong belief in allowing the body to heal itself, and their job is to help that happen."

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