Medicare Now Covers Acupuncture for Lower Back Pain


The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced its decision to start covering acupuncture for Medicare beneficiaries who suffer from chronic lower back pain.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is considered a type of alternative therapy in Western medicine, although it has been used in many countries like China for thousands of years. Because it was considered an alternative therapy,  it was not previously covered by Medicare. It works by inserting thin needles in specific points in the body in order to alleviate pain and other health conditions. 

Acupuncture benefits

How does it work? It is a treatment that works to stimulate parts of the body by inserting extremely thin needles into the skin at specific nerve points. In addition to complex diseases and chronic pain, the following are benefits:

  • Reduced stress
  • Allergy relief
  • Headache relief
  • Reduced eye strain
  • Improved immune system

Medicare coverage 

CMS made the decision to add acupuncture to Medicare coverage due to an assessment made of the benefits and harms connected to the opioid crisis. CMS reviewed studies showing that patients saw improvements in their lower back pain with regular treatment. 

According to CMS, there is variation in covered indications and how frequent the treatment is required. In relation to this current decision, chronic lower back pain is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks and is not associated with pregnancy or surgery.

Medicare covers up to 12 visits within 90 days plus an additional eight sessions if improvement is demonstrated. Medicare will not cover more than 20 acupuncture sessions annually. 

CMS Principal Deputy Administrator of Operations and Policy, Kimberly Brandt said, “We are dedicated to increasing access to alternatives to prescription opioids and believe that covering acupuncture for chronic low[er] back pain is in the best interest of Medicare patients.”

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