A change in insurance requirements is putting some stress on thousands of Alberta massage therapists who are now scrambling to prove they meet new standards.  

Some insurance companies are now refusing claims from clients of therapists who have less than 2,200 hours of training education.

Manulife made the change in October and Alberta Blue Cross will do the same next May.

Cheryl Delisle has been a massage therapist for 15 years and says she’s frustrated with the insurance policy change.

“Where am I going to gain my livelihood because that essentially is they’re telling me I’m no longer competent,” Delisle said.

“It’s extremely frustrating because it’s your whole livelihood, it’s something that you’ve poured your last 15 years into and for someone to come along to say none of that means anything anymore, it puts you in a corner. Frustrating is a small word for what I feel.”

Delisle has 720 hours of schooling and may now have to take a competency equivalency exam, something she says many in the field she’s spoken to are now studying for.

“They’re extremely overwhelmed,” Delisle said.

The policy change affects as many as 3,000 massage therapists in the province, who don’t meet the new standard.

Eric Morin with Natural Health Practitioners of Canada, which represents about 4,000 therapists, says therapists will either have to go back to school or challenge a new competency exam.

Morin says some will be exempt because of years spent practicing but admits a few Alberta therapists have decided to leave the profession altogether.

“I think it’s sad that any single person feels that his or her profession no longer has room for him or her,” Morin said.

“Some of our members are upset quite understandably. Some feel that it’s absolutely appropriate because they welcome the introduction of a stricter, regulatory framework. Overall the single most noticeable reaction has been concern tempered by confusion and a certain amount of anger.”

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

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

“When it’s an unregulated profession, the standards that companies look at adopting if they are putting requirements in place, would be a benchmark based on a regulated province,” Karen Voin, with the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc., tells CTV News.

The new rules means it will be more difficult for massage clients to get their claims covered and that’s something Delisle say will result in loss of business.

“The insurance companies are probably covering at least half of the amount of what a massage is actually worth so a lot of them say if they had to pay a full amount to come on a regular basis, they wouldn’t really be able to afford that,” Delisle said.  

Delisle doesn’t want to lose clients like Harrison, so she’s doing everything she can to ensure she meets the new standards.

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

As far as regulation goes, Alberta Health says the regulation of massage therapy is currently under consideration.

With files from Carmen Leibel