Tightening massage regulations

New rules by insurance companies target massage claims

New rules instituted by insurance companies across Canada this year are setting higher requirements for massage therapists to provide insurance claims for their clients.

Massage therapy remains the primary treatment received by spa goers according to the International SPA Association 2011 U.S. Spa Industry Study. With the exception of Australia, Canadian training standards remain the highest in the world, with many therapists achieving 2,200 hours of training. British Columbia, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador are provinces where massage therapy is regulated by a College of Massage Therapists and all members of the college achieve 2,200 hours of training and undergo rigorous examinations to be allowed to practice.

Until recently in all provinces, regulated or unregulated, as long as the registered massage therapist (RMT) belonged to any association, clients were able to claim their massages for reimbursement by insurance companies. In 2012 insurance companies such as Manulife, Sunlife, and Great West Life are asking all RMT's regardless of province to have a minimum of 2,200 hours of education and/or belong to a recognized association that sets certain requirements at a level comparable to those practitioners who are licensed in regulated provinces.

The Natural Health Practitioners of Canada (NHPC) is an association that has most of its members in Alberta but also a small amount of practitioners in other provinces. Their membership includes other modalities besides massage therapy so only some of their practitioners would be eligible for insurance claims outside of regulated provinces as long as they have 2,200 hours and/or have been approved on a case by case basis by the insurance companies.

How will this affect your spa? Whether you are a resort spa, day spa, or holistic clinic, a large part of your income comes from massage therapy services.

In BC, ON, and NFLD the titles massage therapist, registered massage therapist, massage therapy, and therapeutic massage (see websites for a full listing of protected titles) are protected under the government's Health Professions Act and can only be used by massage therapists that are registered with the colleges. No other person other than a registrant may use these titles or practice massage therapy, under threat of prosecution.

Depending on the focus of your spa you will want to carefully consider the massage services goals for your location. If you are a day spa located in a large centre, likely your clients will want to claim their massages. More remote resort spas may not have the need to have registered therapists on staff for insurance claims.

For example, The Ancient Cedars Spa at the Wickaninnish Spa in British Columbia employs both registered and unregistered therapists. They do not issue receipts for insurance reimbursement to their guests and make sure all guests know the massage is for relaxation purposes only. The minimum standard all therapists achieve for employment at their spa is 1,000 hours. In contrast, The Fairmont Hotel chain employs only 2,200 hour registered therapists and they do issue receipts for insurance claims. Correct information regarding massage therapy regulations in each province will help you make an educated decision. Contact your provincial massage therapy association in your province for more information.

Here are some things to think about as you assess your needs regarding massage therapy services:

Registered Massage Therapists ✔ Unregistered Massage Therapists ✘

  • ✔ Clients can claim massages through insurance
  • ✔ High quality of education, ensuring accountably, professionalism, and protection for clients
  • ✔ Consistency of training
  • ✔ Higher professional standards, most take yearly upgrading and CPR certification and have professional liability insurance
  • ✔ Higher pay scale
  • ✔ Ability to compete with massage therapy clinics
  • ✔ Must keep clinical records of treatment for insurance companies and issue receipts with RMT registration numbers
  • ✔ Depending on which province, you may have trouble finding qualified people
  • ✘ Clients will not be able to claim their massages
  • ✘ Pay scale may be lower
  • ✘ Training will not be consistent (1,000 hours of training should be your minimum)
  • ✘ Massage therapy treatments may decrease, due to competion with massage therapy clinics
  • ✘ Do not have to keep records of treatment for insurance companies or issue proper receipts with RMT's registration numbers

Recognized RMT associations

The following is a breakdown by province of which RMT associations are accepted by insurance companies:

The College of Massage Therapists of Ontario (www.cmto.com) or

The Registered Massage Therapists' Association of Ontario (www.secure.rmtao.com)

College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia (www.cmtbc.bc.ca)

Newfoundland and Labrador Massage Therapists' Association (www.nlmta.ca)

Massage Therapists Association of Alberta (www.mtaalberta.com)

Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba (www.mtam.mb.ca)

New Brunswick Massotherapy Association (www.nbma-amnb.ca)

North West Territories Massage Therapy Association (www.nwtmta.org)

Massage Therapists' Association of Nova Scotia (www.mtans.com)

Prince Edward Island Massage Therapists' Association (www.peimta.com)

Professional Massage Therapists Association of Quebec (www.amtmc-ampq.qc.ca)

Massage Therapist Association of Saskatchewan (www.saskmassagetherapy.com)

Lisa Gossen is the owner of Emerge Spa Training, an on-site training institute for Massage Therapy, and Inner Balance Spa in Calgary. Lisa firmly believes capable and inspired staff is a key factor to a long term successful spa practice in the hospitality industry.

by Lisa Gossen | Winter 2013