Parapharmaceuticals. Why are they a health insurance exclusion?

Written by John W.

More than ever, doctors are prescribing patients with parapharmaceuticals.  While these vitamin and mineral infused pills claim to have dramatic health benefits, parapharmaceuticals aren’t what you think.  In fact, to the average patient, they can be deceiving.  Like any prescription, most patients presume they will be covered by insurance.  However, parapharmaceuticals are rarely covered. So when a patient discovers the cost of their prescription won’t be reimbursed, he or she may be rather confused.  

What is a parapharmaceutical?

Parapharmaceuticals are food supplements. They are typically derived from plants and come in the medicine-like bottles of vitamins and minerals you see lining pharmacy shelves. Popular supplements include vitamin C, fish oil, ginkgo biloba and multivitamins.  While parapharmaceuticals have a nutritional and physiological effect on the body, they generally do not require a prescription.  You can visit any pharmacy and purchase them over the counter.

Is it medication?

Parapharma

For many patients, this is where the confusion comes in.  Unless specific medical condition is present such as severe stomach illness that requires regular vitamin B12 intake for example, most parapharmaceuticals are not “medication”; they are supplements. The difference?

Medications and supplements go through two very different approval channels before they get to market.  Before medications can be prescribed by doctors, they are rigorously tested on animals and humans for 5 to 10 years and must pass a stringent approval process by the FDA. Parapharmaceuticals, however, can go from an idea by a board of supplement manufacturers, to market in just a few months. Unlike medications, they are not heavily regulated. The approval process is quite easy, and as long as the brand has a good manufacturing process, the supplement is usually approved. 

Why are parapharmaceuticals typically not covered by insurance plans?

Most health insurance policies will list parapharmaceuticals as one of the general health insurance exclusions.  Unlike medications, parapharmaceuticals are not required by the FDA to prove their health benefits.  While a medication must gain FDA approval for every health claim it advertises, parapharmaceutical companies are not held accountable for their claims and can tout any health benefit they choose.  To make matters worse, many supplements are marketed to appear as medications (which they are not), making their purpose even more confusing to patients. 

Why are parapharmaceuticals prescribed?

Doctors want their patients to recover quickly.  However, if you visit a doctor with a simple head cold, for example, you may not require medication.  In this case, a doctor may believe you could use an extra boost of vitamins or minerals. This is where parapharmaceuticals come in.  A doctor may prescribe you these supplements to speed up your recovery.

Are parapharmaceuticals necessary? To answer this question, we consulted Luma's resident health advisor and medical expert Dr. Lalande.  According to Dr. Lalande, most parapharmaceuticals are unneeded for healthy individuals. You’ll receive more health benefits by ingesting vitamins and minerals from whole, natural foods rather than chemically manufactured parapharmaceuticals.  However, there is one exception.

Dr. Lalande recommends calcium combined with vitamin D for those with a high risk of osteoporosis.  This supplement is proven to push calcium into the bone and can be a savior for patients with a low bone density.

If you’d rather not pay for parapharmaceuticals prescribed by your doctor, is there anything you can do?  We recommend asking your doctor if a parapharmaceutical is really necessary for your recovery.  If you’re unsure whether or not you’re being prescribed a parapharmaceutical, simply ask the doctor about your prescription.

Have questions about Luma health insurance?  Curious to learn about our coverage benefits?  Luma Health Insurance offers some of the most comprehensive personal health insurance coverage in South East Asia.  Contact us today to discover how you can achieve radiant health with LUMA.  

 

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