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Health insurance cracks down on subsiding spa therapy

February 14, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ France’s health insurance program is cutting costs by cracking down on the sea-water therapy enjoyed by about 200,000 people every year, a newspaper said Friday.

Thalassotherapy, from the Greek word for sea, has become a booming business in France. Some 42 centers have sprung up along on the French coastline selling weeklong cures for stress, obesity, smoking, bad circulation and post-partum depression.

The therapy involves hot algae wraps, jacuzzi baths, water massage, water aerobics and other treatments.

Thalassotherapy is mostly for the rich. A week of treatment with four 20-minute sessions daily costs about $1,000, often including lodging in a luxury hotel.

Le Monde newspaper said the national health insurance program spent $2 million last year on French spa-goers. That covers mandatory examinations by a general practitioner on the premises, who helps customers choose their treatments and looks for possible health risks. In some cases, it also covers physical therapy.

Officials suspect some doctors abuse the system by prescribing therapy to make more money for the spa.

The state-run insurance office in Nantes, on the Atlantic coast, was the first to object. In a letter addressed to sea water spas around France, Nantes director Claude Fremont said his office would no longer pay for visits to spa doctors. Le Monde said other regional offices plan to follow suit.

While many doctors say injured limbs and weakened muscles improve dramatically in warm sea water, others question its effects.

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