Hundreds of Alberta massage therapists may soon be out of work due to new insurance claim requirements that don’t recognize massage training done outside of Canada.

Some major insurance companies have begun refusing claims from patients of therapists who have less than 2,200 hours of formal training.

Hundreds of therapists are now being required to go back to school or challenge an equivalency exam to prove their accreditation.

Many therapists who have years of work experience are able to avoid both and are being exempt from the new rules however therapists who received foreign training – no matter how many years of experience they have – are not exempt.

That is affecting between 300-400 Alberta massage therapists who received training outside of Canada – like Mikhail Moshinsky.

Moshinsky says he has 22 years of massage therapy experience and has been working in Alberta for 14 of those years.

Because Moshinsky was originally trained in Russia, he is not recognized as a registered massage therapist under the new claim rules, nor can he be exempt from the equivalency exam.

“I was very upset, I was really upset,” Moshinsky said.

Moshinsky works at the Allin Clinic, where he helps about 10 new patients a week as a result of doctor referrals.

The CAO of the Allin Clinic even wrote a letter vouching for Moshinsky’s accreditation.

“To be clear, our physicians recommend Mr. Moshinsky as a preferred provider for the simple reason that our patients have expressed a high level of satisfaction with the therapeutic benefits of his treatments,” Frank Coughlan with The Allin Clinic writes.

“It would be truly unfortunate if the care provided by a qualified and skilled massage therapist were disrupted as the result of the ham-fisted application of what appears to be an arbitrary rule.”

Tracey McMahon is facing the same situation as Moshinsky.

McMahon is a local spa owner who trained in Scotland.

She’s been providing massage services since 2002 but received a letter from Manulife Financial stating she no longer meets accreditation standards due to foreign training.

“They’ve reviewed my case and I do not have the accreditation required to be considered a registered massage therapist with Manulife. It's a huge devastation, a slap in the face," McMahon said.

"Basically saying that foreign-trained workers we're not allowed to be grandfathered in, they don't accept any foreign training whatsoever."

There is relutance for many massage therapists to take the equivalency exam because it's a difficult written test that takes months of studying to prepare for. For therapists who have been out of school for years - the exam would be challenging.

Hundreds 'effectively being put out of business'

In a statement sent to CTV News, Manulife says all massage therapists who do not have accreditation under the new rules, regardless of the location in which they obtained their qualifications, must complete an equivalency exam for accreditation “to ensure that they understand the appropriate protocols and parameters of the massage therapy profession.”

Only insurance claims made by clients of accredited massage therapists are reimbursed.

“These standards align with the requirements within the provinces that regulate massage therapy and in the majority of provinces that do not regulate these providers,” the Manulife statement reads.

Erin Morin with Natural Health Practitioners of Canada (NHPC), which represents thousands of massage therapists, says many are upset with the new rules.

“The single overriding question we hear is, ‘ why?’ because there is no good reason to exclude these practitioners,” Morin said.

“We're talking about several hundred highly trained, very competent professionals who are effectively being put out of business.”

Morin says the NHPC can verify foreign credentials and would be willing to help insurers do the same, but he says Manulife would rather see therapists do the equivalency exam.

Manulife made the claim changes in October.

Sun Life and Alberta Blue Cross are expected to do implement the changes beginning May 1.

Moshinsky believes massage is an important part of maintaining health and worries what might become of his clients, who will no longer be reimbursed for his services.

“I came to Canada to help people, to do my job,” he said. “I really do the job.”

Allison MacLeod is one of Moshinsky’s patients. She has her shoulder injury worked on every two weeks and says she’s angry she will no longer be able to claim receipts over the new rules.

“It just makes angry,” MacLeod said. “I don’t think the people that push the papers really have the knowledge to make those decisions if they’re not here, on the front line.”

MacLeod says if she has to, she’ll pay out-of-pocket for massages from Moshinsky.

“There is no need for him to re-qualify himself to anyone,” she said.

“He is a damn good masseuse.”

But other patients who can’t afford services without insurance reimbursement may stop coming to the hundreds of massage therapists affected by the claim change.

Moshinsky says he’s filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission over the issue.

“I applied to human rights because they don’t allow me to practice my job because of my foreign education,” he said.

The new requirements affect as many as 3,000 massage therapists in Alberta.

Unlike other provinces in Canada including Ontario, B.C. and Newfoundland, massage therapy is not regulated in Alberta.

The province tells CTV News it has been in talks with a number of groups representing massage therapists, with the ultimate goal of moving towards regulation, but nothing concrete has been determined.

Insurance companies say the 2,200-hour criteria will bring Alberta in line with other jurisdictions.

Prior to the change, therapists in Alberta only needed 250 hours of formal training.

With files from Carmen Leibel