Burlington yoga teacher Kathy McNames calls yoga “a healing modality.”
She can rattle off a range of health benefits associated with the practice: better breathing, relieved back pain or depression that’s a bit easier to bear.
McNames is so certain of the healing properties of yoga, in fact, that she has co-founded a organization calling for Vermont public and private health insurance plans to pay for yoga therapy.
As lawmakers continue to haggle over how to save health care costs, the Montpelier-based group has begun to argue that yoga should be part of the solution.
“It’s a good time to open the conversation,” McNames said.
The new group, named the Student and Teachers Yoga Association, doubles as a way for Vermont’s yoga community to organize.
“Unless the Legislature and private insurers take action, lower-income Vermonters will continue to be referred for yoga therapy by their doctors with no ability to pay for the services,” the group wrote in a news release last month.
Dave Sterrett, one of the leaders, is a graduate of Middlebury College. He lobbied previously in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to cover alternative care providers under the federal Affordable Care Act, he said.
More recently, he devoted his energy to pressing for a single-payer health system in Vermont, the Burlington Free Press reported last year.
One route, Sterrett said, would be to include yoga as a prevention and wellness benefit in health plans, similar to the way some plans include money toward a gym membership. The yoga group does not expect unlimited free classes for everyone.
“We’ll have to make the same kind of cost arguments that everyone else does,” Sterrett said. “I’m fully aware that people are reticent about increasing costs, and so am I.”
Special-interest groups regularly push for health insurance coverage, said Rep. Christopher Pearson, P-Burlington, vice chairman of the House Health Care Committee.
“We would certainly need to see some clear data to suggest that this would be cost-effective,” Pearson said when asked about the yoga group’s goals. There’s nothing to prevent private insurance plans from recognizing yoga currently, he added, but a state mandate would be a challenge.
Sterrett is optimistic about his chances in the statehouse and working with private insurers. He guesses that some legislators likely practice yoga themselves.
“I’ve definitely talked preliminarily to folks, and there’s a strong interest,” Sterrett said. “One of the reasons why Vermont’s a good place for this is that yoga’s pretty popular.”
Just how popular? No one seems to know exactly, as Vermont lacks registration for yoga teachers. As one possible measure of popularity, Burlington International Airport opened one of the first airport yoga rooms in the country in January 2013.
In 2012, the magazine Yoga Journal reported that about 8.7 percent of adults nationwide practiced yoga. Sterrett estimates that the rate is at least as high in Vermont. Continue reading >>