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Court Rules Massage Therapy can be Covered by Workers’ Compensation

Many workers who have been injured on the job could benefit from massage therapy, depending on the nature of their condition. Passive modalities like massage therapy can save insurance companies extensive costs associated with more invasive treatment. However, many carriers view massages as an unnecessary luxury and not a proper medical treatment. Recently, the Commonwealth Court ruled that massage therapy can be covered under certain conditions.

Massage therapy has been shown to promote healing by stretching damaged tissues, reducing inflammation, and breaking down muscle adhesions. These can aid in the healing process. In the State of Pennsylvania, massage therapy has not been recognized as a covered medical treatment.

Schriver v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board

However, in late 2017, the Court provided a roadmap as to how injured workers could be reimbursed for expenses accrued for massage therapy.   In the case of Schriver v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, an employee injured his back while working at the Department of Transportation.  The injury occurred nearly 40 years ago, in 1978. Since the accident, he had been receiving treatment from a general practitioner and a chiropractor.  The chiropractor referred the patient to massage therapy sessions once a month, priced at $60 per session, which the claimant paid himself.

Eventually, the injured worker sought reimbursement for the massage therapy, which was denied. He subsequently filed a petition, which culminated in two hearings.  A judge ultimately directed the employer to reimburse the claimant, but the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board reversed the decision, and the claimant appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

He argued to the Court that his treatment was related to the work injury, and his licensed chiropractor had referred him for the treatment. The act mandates payment for services by a health care provider. This term has been defined to include individuals licensed by the commonwealth to provide health care services, or their agents.

Moran v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board

The court then ran through an extensive analysis of case law to illuminate the issue. In one prior case, the Court held that vocational experts are not licensed, therefore referrals to those practitioners should not be reimbursed by the employer. Another case set forth that massages should not be reimbursed when performed by an unlicensed masseur, even with a prescription. However, in the case of Moran v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, the court ruled that massages could be covered when performed by a licensed nurse, as they are considered a health care provider under the terms of the act.

In Pennsylvania, the legislature passed the Massage Therapy Law in 2008.  This law provided licensure for massage therapists, but specifically states that a license does not automatically render treatment reimbursable under the Workers’ Compensation Act. In the case at bar, the claimant’s massage therapy was directed by his chiropractor, and the masseur was licensed.  On these grounds, the Commonwealth Court found that the employer was liable for reimbursing the injured employee.

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