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Information about Accessing Medical Care + Alternative medicine + Health literacy

What is acupuncture?

acu.jpgAcupuncture is the practice of inserting very thin metal needles into the skin to stimulate points on the body.


What is the Affordable Care Act?

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare or the ACA, is a law intended to reform the health care system and make health insurance more affordable.  The law has gone into effect in stages.  For example, a provision that requires insurance to fully cover preventive services (like cancer screenings) was implemented in 2010, while the part of the law that stops insurance companies from denying people health insurance because of pre-existing conditions takes effect in 2014.

If you already have health insurance

Say you've already got health insurance.  How does Affordable Care Act affect you?  Well, there are a couple of ways:

  • If you're insured through a parent, you are eligible to continue to receive that coverage up until you're 26 years old.  That means that you've got more time to figure out the other Affordable Care Act provisions before you need to start arranging for your own coverage.
  • Your insurance now covers the full cost of some services that are meant to prevent illness, including birth control, regardless of whether your plan includes a deductible, co-insurance or co-pays.  These services include things like immunizations (like that pesky measles vaccine you have to get in order to attend college!), pap smears and birth control.  Even if your insurance has a deductible, or an amount that you have to pay out-of-pocket before your coverage kicks in, you won't be charged for these services.  Same thing goes for co-insurance (the percent of a service or visit that your insurance company normally makes you pay for) and co-pays (the amount you pay at your doctor's front desk or when you pick up a medication at the pharmacy).
  • If you're a graduate teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA), and have the Graduate Appointee Insurance Plan (GAIP), expect expanded coverage for preventive care.  Otherwise, your benefits should remain mostly unchanged.

If you already have health insurance, you don't need to do anything new or different, unless your insurance company says so.  Be sure to read about the preventive services that are now fully covered by your plan, regardless of whether you have a deductible, co-insurance or co-pays. 

If you purchase student health insurance through UW

If you buy the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) through the University of Washington, you should expect to find very little changed.  However, SHIP is subject to the same requirements as other health insurance policies, and therefore now fully covers preventive services like birth control and immunizations.  You can read about your benefits under SHIP here.

Please note that SHIP will no longer be offered starting Fall Quarter of 2015. Click here for more information.

If you don't have health insurance

Starting January 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act will require everyone to purchase a health insurance plan, just like the government requires people who own a car to buy car insurance.  Fortunately, if you're a typical college student without much income, there are subsidies available to lower the cost of private insurance.  If you are low-income, you might be eligible for public insurance, also known as Medicaid, for which you would not need to pay. As you apply for the insurance through an online exchange, you will be prompted to enter income and demographic information. The system will determine your eligibility for Medicaid and subsidies based on this information.

Eligibility information for Washington residents

If you are an uninsured resident of Washington State, you may have two options:

Curious as to how much you might be looking at paying for your health insurance?  Here's a special calculator that estimates your monthly payment for health insurance (though keep in mind that you might be eligible for Medicaid if you earn less than 138% of the Federal Poverty Level).

If you enrolling in private insurance through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, there are presently only three plans that are contracted with Hall Health Center and other parts of UW Medicine.  They are:

  • BridgeSpan
  • Molina Healthcare
  • Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW-HIX)

If you find that you qualify for Medicaid (aka Washington Apple Health or DSHS), please be aware that we are contracted with these three plans:

  • Amerigroup Washington (AMG)
  • Molina Healthcare of Washington (MHC)
  • Coordinated Care Corporation (CCC)

If you enroll in one of these plans, you can receive care, including mental health services, at Hall Health Center.  We are not contracted with Community Health Plan of Washington and United Health Care Community Health or have limited services that we are able to provide.

Eligibility information for residents of other states

Depending on where you're from, your home state may or may not have its own health insurance exchange (a website set up to facilitate finding and purchasing a health insurance plan).  You can use the federal government's Health Insurance Marketplace to get routed to your state's exchange.  If your state does not operate an exchange, you can use the federal government's version to buy your plan.

Similarly, your state may not have opted to expand Medicaid eligibility.  Read more here about the Medicaid expansion.

International students

If you are a citizen of another country attending the University of Washington, you are required to enroll in the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). You can read about your benefits here.

Other provisions of the Affordable Care Act

There are other elements of the Affordable Care Act that may affect you:

  • Starting in 2014, insurance companies can no longer reject you or charge you more because you have a medical condition
  • If you don't have health insurance at the end of 2014, you may have to pay a penalty (probably less than $100).  Take a look at this graphic to find out if the penalty could apply to you.

Additional resources


Get help enrolling through a Patient Navigator (a health insurance expert).

Read about insurance and Hall Health.

Check out this cartoon-style infographic on what the Affordable Care Act means for young people.

The federal government's website offers lots of resources to help you make sense of the Affordable Care Act.

Washington State's Health Plan Finder is where you'll purchase health insurance if you need to buy an individual (i.e., not employer- or parent-sponsored) plan and are a Washington resident.

If you're not a Washington State resident, the federal government's Health Insurance Marketplace can help you purchase a plan.


Authored by: Hall Health Center Health Promotion staff

Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Administration staff, January 2014

Hall Health Center has a number of different clinics, each of which is staffed by a variety of medical providers.  These providers, also known as clinicians, have different types of medical degrees.

women student searching onlineYou may not have considered it, but every time you read health information, from food labels to medical forms, you're exercising your health literacy skills.

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process, and understand health information needed to make informed health decisions. Health literacy affects your ability to:

yoga.jpgComplementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are health care therapies that are not used by practitioners of conventional (Western) medicine. These remedies are sometimes excluded from standard practice due to lack of evidence.

What do complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) include?

There are several broad categories that CAM fall into. Some can be in more than one of these categories.

Healing systems

Healing systems are both practice and theories to heal the body. These focus on a way of life. Some are based on traditional practices of individual cultures.

Examples include:

  • Ayurveda: Traditionally from India, this system highlights mind, body and spiritual wellness. This system includes a healthy diet, exercise, meditation, herbs, massage, exposure to sunlight, and breathing techniques.
  • Homeopathy: In this Western healing philosophy, practitioners use small doses of prepared plant extracts to stimulate the body's healing.
  • Naturopathy: This western system focuses on correcting the body's processes. Therapy can include diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, hydrotherapy, spinal and soft tissue manipulation, energy therapy, light therapy, and counseling.

Mind-body connections

The core belief of this philosophy is that when your mind and body are in harmony, you will have better health. Some of these are accepted as standard treatments. Examples of mind and body treatments include:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Prayer
  • Hypnosis
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Art therapy

Biological treatment

This includes natural and biological products to promote health. These typically include herbal treatments, special diets, and individual biological treatment.

Important points to consider about biological CAM treatments:

  • Natural is not the same thing as safe. Some herbs can be toxic if taken incorrectly. Chemicals and fillers are sometimes added to supplements and herbs.
  • Individuals respond differently. The effects on pregnancy and child development are unknown.
  • Herbal and dietary supplements can interact with other drugs and cause other side effects. Always tell your health care provider what supplements you are using.  For example, the use of St. John's Wort, an herbal remedy used to treat depression, can make oral contraceptives (birth control pills) less effective.
  • Safety. The safety of over-the-counter CAM treatments, such as dietary supplements, depends on the:
    • Ingredients and their origins.
    • Quality of manufacturing. Over the counter dietary supplements are approved by the FDA, but are not be tested by the FDA prior to marketing. Products cannot be labeled with claims to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent unless the product passes through the same approval processes as any new drug. Products that make such claims are illegally sold.


Practitioners promote healing through manipulation and movement of the body.

  • Chiropracty is the focus on the relationship between the structure of the body, its function and its effect on the health of the individual.
  • Massage is the focus on returning soft tissues, such as muscles, to normal.
  • Osteopathy is the focus on the interaction between body systems and works to restore balance of these systems.


Practitioners of energy healing believe there are energies that flow in the body or external energy fields. Illness may occur when the body's energy is blocked or out of balance. Each variety of energy therapy has a unique set of beliefs about how to correct this energy.

Examples include:

  • Therapeutic touch: From the tradition of "laying-on of hands," the practitioner's healing force balances the energies and improves the healing abilities of the body.
  • Reiki: A Japanese tradition focused on channeling spiritual energy to improve circulation and immunity.
  • Qigong: A traditional oriental medicine, involving meditation, movement and controlled breathing to enhance the flow of energy.
  • Acupuncture: A traditional Chinese medicine that restores and maintains health by stimulating specific energy points on the body.

How do I decide if it is real or bogus?

Before beginning any new therapy, it is important to be well-informed. This is especially important with complementary and alternative medicines. Little is known about many of these treatments, and some can cause adverse side effects.

  • Learn about scientific studies that have been done on the therapy. While stories can be intriguing, they do not guarantee that a CAM is safe. As interest in CAM continues to grow, more scientific studies are being done to look at effectiveness and risks.
  • Talk to your health care provider. Tell them what therapy you are considering and what you know of the risks and the benefits. Be prepared to ask your health care provider any additional questions you have about the therapy.  Be sure to mention
  • Use the internet to search medical libraries and databases for information.

Considering costs

Most insurance companies cover some of these services, such as acupuncture or visits with a certified naturopath (ND). To find out for sure, you will need to contact your insurance company. Depending on the treatment there may be a minimum number of sessions required to fully benefit from the therapy.

Complementary and alternative medicine practitioners

Like any health care practitioner, complementary and alternative medical practitioners should have certification and licenses. Make sure the practitioner you are considering has the proper training. Selecting a CAM provider.

Additional information

Hall Health Center offers acupuncture for musculoskeletal pain.

Office of Dietary Supplements (National Institute of Health)

CAM on Pubmed research database (National institute of Health)

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines (National Institute of Health)

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Medline Plus National institute for Health)

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Video List (National Institute of Health, Senior Health)

HerbMed (Alternation Medicine Foundation)

Alternative Medicine Foundation

Complementary and Alternative Medicine updates (Journal of the American Medical Association)

Glossary of Alternative Medicine

Authored by: Hall Health Center Health Promotion staff
Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Primary Care Clinic staff (MC), February 2014

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