Updated: March 8th, 2020
acupuncture for chronic back pain

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) announced some historic and exciting news: In CMS’ January 21st decision memo it formally announced it would reimburse acupuncture for chronic low back pain for Medicare recipients. This is a significant milestone on the path to getting acupuncture widely recognized for its ability to help the public with a persistent and difficult chronic condition. The fact that CMS, one of the largest federal agencies, has acknowledged the effectiveness of acupuncture holds promise for patients and acupuncturists.

CMS included licensed acupuncturists as one of the providers under its “auxiliary personnel” clause. This is currently the only way CMS could include acupuncturists as they are not listed as an approved provider of Medicare services in the Social Security Act (SSA). CMS used the avenue available to it at this time to include acupuncturists and acupuncture services in Medicare.

Acupuncturists will be allowed to provide these services under the “appropriate level” of supervision by either a physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or clinical nurse specialist. While this is not ideal, it is still a step in the right direction as the supervision is not required to be “direct”, and again this reflects the SSA limitations CMS is working within. As the American Society of Acupuncturists highlighted in their press release regarding CMS’ decision:

“While nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and physician assistants may not practice acupuncture, their supervisory availability also vastly expands the potential for collaborative agreements. It is implicit in this that these providers are not specifically directing the nature of the acupuncture treatment, but rather are collaboratively assuring patient diagnoses, safety, follow-up, and connection to the established care system.” https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Breaking-News–ASA-and-NCCAOM-Joint-Letter-regarding-CMS-Acupuncture-Determination.html?soid=1129429298898&aid=s70PLhiLpGk

This first step provides the most advantageous way under the current law to provide acupuncture to more Medicare recipients, recognize and include acupuncturists, and further elevate acupuncture as an effective treatment for chronic low back pain which, when not appropriately addressed, can lead to opioid misuse and addiction.

MUIH will continue to lend its support to efforts – big and small – that ensure the public has access to effective health and wellness opportunities and its graduates have a robust and fulfilling professional environment to step into when they graduate.