Regular readers will be well aware of my advocacy of Tai Chi as a means of maintaining optimal health for the lifespan. (For those who are new, click on the Tai Chi tag to read past articles about the benefits of Tai Chi). There are few forms of exercise that can boast the wide range of physical and mental health benefits, whilst being accessible to people of all ages and abilities, as Tai Chi does.
Health insurers around the world have increasingly recognised the benefits of enabling their members to engage in activities designed to promote healthy lifestyles, and thereby maximise health and well-being. The rationale is simple: engaging in preventative health practices minimises the risks of developing more serious, complicated, and/or debilitating conditions, and therefore reduces both the incidence and level (not to mention the expense) of future medical care required. For example, it is far better from an insurers point of view to support a member to engage in a weight management program, gym membership, and nicotine replacement therapy, than it is to support them through coronary artery bypass surgery and the follow-up care afterwards.
As a result, most, if not all, health insurers now offer some form of support for members to engage in activities designed to maintain or improve their health. The types of activities vary between insurers: in Australia, common activities covered include gym and personal training, yoga, Pilates, and weight management programs. Yet despite its known benefits to health, Tai Chi is not currently covered by any major Australian health insurer. Why?
It’s a good question. Considering that health insurers will, for the most part, only cover treatments or activities that are supported by clinical evidence to be effective in maintaining or improving health, Tai Chi is possibly one of the better examples of evidence-based interventions for good health. A good example of this can be found in a review published in the American Journal of Health Promotion (1.). In this article, Jahnke and colleagues examined the outcomes of randomised controlled trials investigating the outcomes of both Tai Chi and Qigong exercises, and found evidence of positive outcomes for numerous health factors, including bone health, cardiopulmonary health, physical function, falls prevention, immunity, psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression and self-efficacy, and general quality of life. This is by no means an exhaustive list: research since publication continues to identify more health conditions for which Tai Chi can be beneficial. In the face of such evidence, and considering that many insurers cover a range of complimentary or alternative health practices whose evidence based is equal to or less than that of Tai Chi, it seems odd that Tai Chi would not be covered alongside options such as yoga and Pilates.
It becomes even more confusing when you consider that Tai Chi has previously been covered by at least one insurer in Australia. In 2010 the Tai Chi Association of Australia (TCAA) reported that MBF (which has since merged and is now known as Bupa) had recognised Tai Chi for inclusion in its Lifestyle Bonus option, and as much as 70% of class fees could be covered under certain conditions. At the time of writing however, Tai Chi does not appear to be covered under Bupa’s Living Well programs, whereas other forms of exercise such as yoga and Pilates are, and the reasons for this remain unknown.
Another point of consideration is the fact that Tai Chi is gaining recognition and support from the broader health and medical industry for its health benefits. An increasing number of doctors, physiotherapists, exercise physiologists and other health professionals are recommending Tai Chi as a part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. A number of hospitals and health services either conduct, or are connected to, Tai Chi classes, and promote this to their patients and the broader community. For example, the South West Hospital and Health Service in rural south-west Queensland offers free Tai Chi classes to the general public. This is similar to programs offered by local councils, such as the Gold Coast City Council’s Active and Health Program which includes Tai Chi amongst its variety of healthy activities. In addition, the benefits of Tai Chi have been formally recognised and endorsed by a number of peak representative bodies, including Arthritis Australia, Diabetes Australia and Osteoporosis Australia.
In the light of such evidence, recognition and support, it seems to only make sense that health insurers should be including Tai Chi alongside other already recognised activities such as yoga and Pilates. Indeed, health insurers in other countries, for example the United States, have already recognised the benefits of including Tai Chi in their own benefits packages. Surely the inclusion of Tai Chi within a healthy lifestyle package can only serve to benefit health insurer’s members, and in doing so, benefit the insurers themselves.
Do you practice Tai Chi? Do you have private health insurance? Do you think health insurance should cover Tai Chi, as it does other activities such as yoga and Pilates? Please share your comments below.
1. Jahnke, R., et al. (2010). A comprehensive review of health benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi. American Journal of Health Promotion, 24(6): e1-e25.