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Medicare Will Now Cover Acupuncture for Pain Relief

— February 24, 2020

Holistic services provide a safer, healthier option for pain relief.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently finalized a decision to cover acupuncture for Medicare patients with chronic low back issues as a healthier pain relief alternative to opioid use.  Previously, this practice was not covered in any U.S. state.

“The proposal represents the Trump Administration’s commitment to providing Americans with access to a wide array of options to support their health.  Expanding options for pain treatment is a key piece of the Trump Administrations’ strategy for defeating our country’s opioid crisis,” said Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar. “President Trump has promised to protect and improve Medicare for our seniors and deciding to cover this new treatment option is another sign of that commitment.  Medicare beneficiaries will now have a new option at their disposal to help them deal with chronic low back pain, which is a common and sometimes debilitating condition.”

Medicare Will Now Cover Acupuncture for Pain Relief
Photo by Antonika Chanel on Unsplash

“We are dedicated to increasing access to alternatives to prescription opioids and believe that covering acupuncture for chronic low back pain is in the best interest of Medicare patients,” said CMS Principal Deputy Administrator of Operations and Policy Kimberly Brandt. “We are building on important lessons learned from the private sector in this critical aspect of patient care.  Over-reliance on opioids for people with chronic pain is one of the factors that led to the crisis, so it is vital that we offer a range of treatment options for our beneficiaries.”

In 2017, opioids were involved in 47,600 deaths related to overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  CMS is focused on fighting the opioids epidemic including by supporting access to pain management using a safe and effective range of treatment options that rely less on prescription opioids.  HHS has also developing a plan to address use,  dependence, and overdose, which includes a five point strategy: “(1) better data, (2) better pain treatment, (3) more addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services, (4) more overdose reversers, and (5) better research.”

Acupuncture is a treatment in which practitioners stimulate specific points on the body.  “During acupuncture very thin needles are lightly inserted into your skin.  Alternatively, acupuncturists can also use manual pressure,” according to WebMd.  “Acupuncture has been studied for its benefits with many types of pain. Acupuncturists believe it corrects energy imbalances in the body.  Western doctors believe it stimulates natural chemicals in your body called endorphins that block pain signals.”

The practice can be a healthier pain relief option for those worried about the high risk of becoming addicted to opioid medications.  The procedure is holistic without any added risk.  WebMD suggests, “Acupuncture may help reduce stress and ease pain associated with certain conditions and help with many other health problems.  Take a few days to learn about acupuncture, where to find an acupuncture practitioner, what the first experience is like, and what it can do for you.”

Jamie Starkey, an acupuncturist at Cleveland Clinic, said, “We’re able to treat a host of pain-related issues such as chronic pain, neck pain, migraines.  Any pain condition can really be nicely addressed with acupuncture with minimal side effects, if any side effects.”


CMS finalizes decision to cover Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain for Medicare beneficiaries

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