Does Your Health Insurance Cover Art and Music Therapy?

Updated on January 21st, 2021

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Creative therapies, such as music and art therapy, continue to grow in popularity as complementary services for those seeking mental health treatments. They’re typically coordinated with other doctors to improve your quality of life.

Whether it’s an individual or group session, you’ll express yourself through different types of art and music. You’ll choose the color, texture, sounds, and rhythm of your work that reflect your current mood. The best part about creative therapies? You won’t need any experience or background in music or art to benefit from these services.

Benefits of Complementary Therapy

“Images and image making are important in art therapy, as it’s a tangible object that comes from a patient’s internal world,” according to Stephanie Gorski, an art therapy specialist based in New York City. Gorski has worked with children and adults living with depression, anxiety, and trauma.

From Gorski’s experience, she’s found that art therapy “can be used to further explore in order to encourage growth or greater insight.”

Researchers have conducted many clinical studies on the efficacy of music and art therapy. Art therapy has been proven to significantly reduce symptoms in many mood disorders. Creating and listening to music has also been shown to affect the emotion regulating brain structures.

Nonverbal communication for individuals with mental illnesses can boost overall feelings of well-being. Studies continue to indicate the improvement in the quality of life, cognition, and moods of individuals who participate in art and music therapy.

Art therapy is “often helpful for more emotionally guarded patients as it can be less direct and feel less threatening,” Gorski says. Through expressive therapy, many have developed better social skills, managed their stress, and resolved internal conflicts.

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Health Insurance and Expressive Therapies

In 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ordered all major medical plans to cover 10 “essential health benefits”. One of the benefits is “mental health and substance use disorder services”. This means that if you have ACA-compliant health insurance, it will cover treatments for mental disorders such as therapy or prescription drugs.

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Fully-Licensed Practitioners Only: Whether or not your insurer covers costs for art or music therapies depends on your creative therapist’s credentials. Your health plan probably won’t cover practitioners who exclusively provide music or art therapy in outpatient settings. An art therapy degree doesn’t necessarily make the cut.

However, you might be reimbursed if he or she is a certified psychologist or psychiatrist who also offers services in creative therapies.

You’ll Need A “Medically Necessary” Referral: Health insurance companies review your creative therapy reimbursement on a case-by-case basis. In order for your insurer to cover sessions with a music or art therapist, the sessions will have to be specified as medically necessary.

Medically necessary status is not a difficult thing to attain. It means that a separate mental health worker or a primary care physician with a connection to your plan will have to prescribe creative therapy as your treatment.

Similar to traditional therapy, you’ll still pay your usual coinsurance or copayment after your visit. You may also have a limit to the number of visits for rehabilitative therapy services.

Costs for supplies and equipment used in a therapy session will be included in the medical bill. However, if you’re interested in partaking in projects at home, you’ll have to pay for these on your own.

Out-of-Network: Art and music therapists often operate as out-of-network providers. As long as your plan is not an HMO, you’ll probably be able to see providers outside of your insurance network. However, your health insurance will reimburse less of the fee from your sessions.

Medicare and Creative Therapy: Medicare Part B includes outpatient care for mental health. Medicare can reimburse music and art therapists, if your visit is prescribed by a physician as medically necessary. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that your provider takes Medicare (and that you have proper supplement insurance) to avoid expensive out-of-pocket costs.

Similarly, Medicare Advantage plans will cover active therapies that would have been covered by Medicare Part B.

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy combines visual and tactile experiences with psychotherapy. Visits with a licensed professional might include drawing, painting, sculpting, or taking photos. You determine the medium, complexity, and style of your artwork while speaking with your therapist.

A session with Emery Mikel, the founder of Water & Stone Creative Arts Therapy, starts out with her clients making a small drawing. This initiates a conversation between the two of them. During this time, Mikel will “offer art supplies and pose specific questions or directions that hone in on something the person is saying, feeling, or uncertain about.” Together, Mikel says, they’ll end their session by setting a goal for the following week.

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy includes a variety of exposure to music and sounds. You might listen to a recording, play an instrument, or sing during a session with a professional. Music therapy works to evoke emotion and memories in patients as they respond to what they hear.

Listening to music can also be soothing as it reduces anxiety and stress in individuals. While your music therapist won’t teach you how to play a new instrument, you’ll still be able to express yourself through rhythm, tempo, and volume. Even without background knowledge of music, you can harmonize with a music therapist.

How Do I Find a Therapist?

Art and music therapists may work at hospitals, nursing centers, or community organizations.

They may also practice privately from an office, typically as an out-of-network provider.

If you can’t afford art or music therapy, local programs may offer sessions at no cost.

Art therapist Mikel emphasizes that “finding the right therapist and taking the time to build rapport, supports a person in doing [art therapy] in a safe environment.”

No matter your age, gender, or health status, creative therapies offer a way for people to cope and resolve conflicts. Both art and music therapy have continued to show improvement in patients with mental illnesses. With the rise of complementary therapies, more insurance companies are partnering up with art and music therapists to provide coverage.

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