CMS Considers Covering Acupuncture

The agency wants to see if presenting this alternative treatment for low back pain for Medicare patients will lessen opioid use.

Acupuncture will be covered for some Medicare beneficiaries signed up in government approved clinical studies, CMS announced Monday. In a statement, HHS Secretary Alex Azar tied the move to the Trump administration’s broader effort to combat the opioid crisis. “Defeating our country’s epidemic of opioid addiction requires identifying all possible ways to treat the very real problem of chronic pain, and this proposal would provide patients with new options while expanding our scientific understanding of alternative approaches to pain,” Azar said in a statement.

Whether acupuncture reaches beyond the effectiveness of a placebo has long been debated and coverage for the treatment is spotty, as the Associated Press reports.

Stat reports that “a review last year from the government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that acupuncture was associated with slight improvements in function and pain for patients with chronic low back pain in the short term, though it did not seem to improve function or pain in the long run.”