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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday proposed a plan to cover acupuncture for Medicare patients with chronic low back pain, framing it as a step that could safely treat pain without supplying more patients with opioids.

“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,” Health Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.


The proposal, released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, would apply only to patients enrolled in clinical trials supported by the National Institutes of Health or those approved by CMS. In its statement, CMS acknowledged that while “the evidence base for acupuncture has grown in recent years … questions remain.”

Some experts argue the benefits of acupuncture are nothing more than the placebo effect and the enjoyment of a ritual — results that do not merit coverage paid for by taxpayers.

Some medical groups, however, have recommended acupuncture for chronic low back pain, especially as clinicians try to resolve chronic pain issues without starting new patients on opioids. In 2017, for example, the American College of Physicians recommended that clinicians should first try therapies other than drugs for chronic low back pain, including exercise, yoga, and acupuncture.


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. It rated the “strength of evidence” for acupuncture as “low” for function, “moderate” for short-term pain, and “low” for intermediate and long-term pain.

CMS is accepting comments on its proposal through Aug. 14.

  • Instead of wasting money on a sham or snake oil why not cover gym membership for aqua therapy which actually helps with pain and improved health. Oh of course our new fascist government wouldn’t want to help keep the elderly and disabled alive and healthy since the goals are to decrease our life expectancy and/or encourage suicide so us useless “eaters” who “take on the sick role” will reduce the cost of Medicare and social security something the Republicans have long wished for and they’ve found their way! The placebo with needles is a joke proven time and again not to work but it sounds better than their actual desire for the millions in chronic pain to die early or commit suicide.

  • According to my experience with accupuncture, it may have some benefit for mild pain but mostly because of a placebo type effect. For chronic pain of any severity, forget about it. It is hard for me to understand medicare practically promoting it, when many pain patients have proven that it does no good in relieving their misery. Why are so many in control of policy disregarding the proven benefits of opioids over all other alternatives? We chronic pain patients are living proof of their affectiveness.

    • Politicians (who care for nothing other than re-election) have been pressured to get rid of opiates because of media stories about people who have turned them into revenue centers (drug manufacturers AND street markets).

      Drug companies bribe physicians to prescribe to folks not warranting them, many of whom then turn and sell them on the streets for big bucks. All of this to the detriment of us chronic pain sufferers.

      Like I said in my previous post, I’m now a paraplegic because of my pain management doctor talking me into an alternative (a Neurostimulator). He botched the insertion. The irony is that I’m still using opiates (thru another doctor) because not even the below the waist paralysis stopped my low back pain.

  • There is no evidence that acupuncture works for any condition. There is an acupuncture school in my community and we have some of the worst health outcomes in the nation. We also have high rates of suicide and drug addiction. Acupuncturists saw a way to take advantage of sick desperate people, nothing more.

    Now acupuncturists are branching out, doing “stem cell” therapies and even claim they have a procedure for E.D. They take out blood, supposedly isolate the platelets then re-inject it into the penis. It is only a matter of time, before one falls off. I doubt that we will even hear about the cases of penile gangrene caused by acupuncturists. I wonder how many people die each year due to accupuncture.

    This country used to have laws and regulations about marketing to vulnerable sick people, now these laws are gone and the FTC, FDA and CDC are no longer acting in the public interest.

    Acupuncturists are quacks,and a huge economic benefit to China, and perhaps a big joke on all Americans. Time and again acupuncture has been proven to be nothing more than a theatrical placebo. There is no agency counting the adverse events deaths or postponed serious medical conditions due to acupuncture.

    One country that uses acupuncture is North Korea, because they don’t have anything else. They have even worse health outcomes than the United States.

  • I have been doing acupuncture about 8years and have found relief for several spinal injuries form neck, mid back as well as lower back. I also do deep tissue massage. I feel the difference when I don’t keep these in my arsenal for better living.

  • Been using hydrocodone for over ten years. Helps greatly with military connected low back injury pain.

    Tried acupuncture six months for low back pain. No help AT ALL.

    Pain Mgmt Doctor recommended Neurostimulator. Botched insertion. Now PARAPLEGIC for life.

    Still have low back pain without my hydrocodone.

    I’ve TRIED the alternatives!! Now, as a result of one of those alternatives (Neurostimulator) I’m confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life.

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