alternative/mike1st/mark2nd

BEN SULLIVAN Staff Reporter

Aura out of whack? Chi not flowing like it should? In need of an herbal tonic? Soon you may need look no further for a dose of holistic healing than your friendly neighborhood HMO.

Long considered the domain of immigrants, or domestic quacks and hippies, alternative medicine is finding an unlikely ally in that most corporate of health worlds, managed care.

Though driven by sometimes different motives, alternative and managed care providers are finding common ground in their efforts to attract patients and keep them out of hospitals.

"People may have different incentives, but if (those incentives) line up correctly, the person who benefits is the patient," said Dr. Phillipa Kannealy, medical director of the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.

To be sure, not all treatments that fall into the broad rubric of "alternative medicine" will be covered by health plans soon. Shamanism, aura adjustments and spiritual healing will likely remain fee-for-service until evidence is accumulated to support their efficacy, analysts say.

Plus, skeptics question how alternative medicine will translate to managed care.

Dr. Jay Gordon, a Santa Monica pediatrician who has used alternative medicine in his practice for more than a decade, said managed care plans will likely botch holistic treatment.

"I think they're going to be paying lip service to it, as they do for most things," Gordon said. "I don't think they'll be doing it for the benefit of the patients."

Still, longtime treatments such as homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic treatments are finding greater acceptance in Western care than ever before.

Since about 1995, most California HMOs have offered chiropractic services as a supplement to their standard plans, according to Alan Tomiyama, a spokesman for the California Association of Health Maintenance Organizations.

And for the first time, several statewide managed care groups will offer access to a network of acupuncturists, chiropractors, homeopaths and herbalists, according to Alan Kittner, CEO of San Francisco-based Complementary HealthCare Inc.

Kittner's firm has been tapped by the plans, whose names he would not disclose, to compile a network of alternative health care providers. While he said pricing is still being worked out, HMOs in other states offering similar services charge 2 to 3 percent over their standard premiums for access to such specialists.

"It's something that's been on our radar screen for a while," said Lisa Freeman, a spokeswoman for CareAmerica Health Plans in Woodland Hills.

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