Managed Physical Medicine

CMS Considers Coverage of Acupuncture for Treatment of Low Back Pain

Could a recently launched federal assessment bolster acceptance of acupuncture as a treatment for occupational low back pain?

In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a National Coverage Analysis to determine whether Medicare should pay for acupuncture treatment for chronic low back pain. CMS cited its motivations as a push from the US Department of Human and Health Services to deliver evidence-based, non-drug treatment solutions for chronic pain in response to the opioid crisis. The assessment is expected to be completed in October 2019.

Conservative treatment options like physical therapy have gained considerable respect in workers’ compensation as an alternative to opioids. Now, studies like this one by the University of York suggest that acupuncture could also be a valuable addition in the treatment of chronic pain in certain circumstances. While the verdict is still out, some states are taking a closer look for workers’ comp.

Currently, California allows authorization for acupuncture for workers’ compensation. A two-year pilot program was launched in 2017 in Washington state whereby participating providers were paid for acupuncture when associated with an accepted condition on a workers’ compensation claim. In January, upon evaluation of the program’s results, the Washington Department of Labor & Statistics proposed a rule that would allow the agency and self-insured employers to pay for acupuncture to treat injured workers’ low back pain. Meanwhile, New York state continues to press for injured workers’ acupuncture coverage despite related bills being vetoed three times in five years.

Could coverage by Medicare help acupuncture gain acceptance in the workers’ comp arena? Only time will tell. Read more at workcompcentral.com.