Madison HMO Group Health to end alternative medicine program

Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, which started offering alternative medicine services such as acupuncture and massage therapy 18 years ago, will stop the services at the end of the year.

Researchers have found that acupuncture may reduce headaches for those who suffer from chronic tension headaches.

Group Health has provided what it calls complementary medicine for its members by charging them discounted fees for the services. The Madison-based HMO is ending the program because the services are now widely available elsewhere and Group Health is investing more in behavioral health services, said Marty Anderson, its chief strategy and business development officer.

In 2005, “we saw that there was a need, and that need wasn’t being filled,” Anderson said. Today, “complementary medicine services are more available within the community.”

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The fees Group Health charged members — such as $59 for a routine acupuncture visit or an hourlong massage, and $45 for a follow-up visit with a naturopathic doctor — covered only about half of the cost of the program, which has lost up to $1 million a year, Anderson said.

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Doubling the fees would make the services more expensive than they are elsewhere, he said. About 3% of Group Health’s 79,000 members have used the services, he said. Some of the 13 complementary medicine providers whose jobs will end Dec. 31 have started a website at, so patients can still find them.

Dr. Mark Huth, Group Health CEO, told members about the ending of the program in a letter Sept. 5. The Capital Times reported on it last week.

The move “is a part of our broader strategy to better address emerging critical heath care needs in our community,” such as behavioral health, Huth’s letter said.

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Anderson said Group Health has expanded its GHC Foundations Intensive Outpatient Program, for mental health patients transitioning to the community after inpatient stays or people who need more therapy than regular outpatient visits.

The program, which started two years ago with a capacity of eight patients at a time, can now take up to 16 patients. It is open to people insured by Group Health, Quartz, Dean and The Alliance, a Madison cooperative of employers that self-insure their workers and buy health care together.

Next month, Group Health will start intensive, at-home behavioral services for children with autism who are members, Anderson said. The HMO has offered non-intensive services, such as speech and occupational therapy.

UW Health’s integrative health program includes acupuncture and massage therapy.


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