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Employer does not have to pay for massage therapy

massage therapy

Ford Motor Co. does not have to cover massage therapy for an injured worker in part because the treatment was not prescribed by a doctor, an appeals court in Michigan ruled Thursday.

Russ M. Belcher was injured in 2006 while working for the automaker and required medical treatment for injuries to his back and right leg and for headaches. Although he was not referred to massage therapy by his doctor, he chose to begin receiving it in October 2014 after his physical therapy was terminated. He typically received massages from a licensed massage therapist twice a week, according to documents in Russ M. Belcher v. Ford Motor Co., filed in the Court of Appeals of Michigan in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Mr. Belcher’s doctor reported that his condition “appeared to improve after he received massage therapy, but that the improvement would last only a few days after each massage” and a doctor retained by Ford “concluded that massage therapy would not change plaintiff's overall diagnosis or functional abilities,” according to documents.

Because Ford refused to pay for massage therapy as part of a workers compensation claim, Mr. Belcher appealed to the courts; a magistrate concluded that the massage therapy was “reasonable and necessary” and ordered Ford to cover the costs. The Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission affirmed on appeal.

The state Court of Appeals vacated the order to pay for the massage therapy, writing that Mr. Belcher “did not receive a prescription for his massages and they were performed by massage therapists, not physical therapists or physical therapist assistants under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. Thus, plaintiff is not entitled to worker's compensation reimbursement from defendant for his massages.”