Medicare may cover acupuncture for patients with chronic low-back pain enrolled in clinical trials or other CMS-approved studies.
In an announcement Monday, the CMS said it's considering coverage of acupuncture in certain instances after the agency reviewed the growing body of research on the method. HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a prepared statement that the proposal is in line with the agency's efforts to expand access to opioid alternatives for pain management.
"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," he said.
As part of the proposal, the CMS would only cover acupuncture for Medicare patients part of clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health or studies that use criteria from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The CMS intends to use information gathered from the studies to inform future coverage decisions about the method.
Although the CMS wants to cover acupuncture, questions remain about its validity. The agency is seeking public comment about its proposal and is especially interested in comments related to current studies of acupuncture in the Medicare population.
Acupuncture is a treatment in which specific parts of the body are stimulated, usually by inserting thin needles into the skin.
The use of acupuncture to treat chronic low-back pain was selected because it's "a leading reason for opioid prescribing," according to Kimberly Brandt, CMS principal deputy administrator of operations and policy
"Today's proposed decision would provide Medicare patients who suffer from chronic low back pain with access to a nonpharmacologic treatment option and could help reduce reliance on prescription opioids," she said. "CMS will work closely with our sister agencies to monitor outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries receiving acupuncture to inform our understanding of the efficacy of this therapeutic approach."