The number of massage therapists qualified to bill the state Public Employees Insurance Agency soon will be reduced by nearly two-thirds.
Recent adjustments to PEIA health plans will limit the number of massage therapists public employees will be able to visit and submit claims for.
Under the revised plan, which goes into effect next summer, state massage therapists billing PEIA must have current national certification, carry $2 million in malpractice insurance and abide by treatment guidelines to be published by the agency with input from the American Massage Therapy Association.
Ted Cheatham, executive director of PEIA, said last week the new regulations would cut the pool of therapists qualified to bill the agency from about 1,100 to 378.
The changes were part of cost-saving measures taken by the agency. Its finance board last week cut health care benefits for the next fiscal year by $18.4 million. The changes include new or increased co-payments for some treatments.
Participants will pay a new, $10 co-pay for massage therapy services next year, in addition to their deductible and co-insurance payments.
The agency paid $762,000 in claims for massage therapy during the 2011 fiscal year.
Derenda Weekley, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Massage Therapists Association, says the new regulations will be good for massage therapy in this state.
Weekley, who works as a massage therapist in Huntington, said years ago any massage therapist who filled out the proper paperwork could become a PEIA provider.
"Entry-level therapists could become PEIA providers. I felt that if I was going to bill insurance, I would want someone who's qualified," she said.
"I'm sure there's going to be some therapists that are upset, but in the long run I think it's going to be good for PEIA clients and massage therapists."
Things certainly could have been worse. The PEIA board originally considered cutting massage therapy coverage altogether. Members of the public and state massage industry protested the move at public hearings held last month.
"It would have hurt a lot of therapists; it would have put them out of jobs," Weekley said.
The board decided to restore massage therapy coverage but add the $10 co-pay.
Cheatham said he met with members of the West Virginia chapter of the American Massage Therapists Association following the hearings to hammer out new regulations.
"We took their recommendations. We thought they were fair and they were balanced," he said. "That shows their ability to reach out for continuing education. I thought that was forthright."
Therapists also must receive about 24 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain their national certification, Weekley said. Those include classes on ethics, appropriate behavior, appropriate dress and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provisions, in addition to massage therapy technique.
While most people think of upscale spas and luxurious resorts when they hear the word "massage," Weekley said the therapy is a clinical procedure that can be quite uncomfortable for the recipient.
The treatment is sometimes used as an alternative to physical therapy, and patients need a doctor's prescription to start massage therapy coverage, Cheatham said.