The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently finalized a decision to cover acupuncture for Medicare patients with chronic low back pain. Before this final National Coverage Determination (NCD) reconsideration, acupuncture was nationally non-covered by Medicare. CMS conducted evidence reviews and examined the coverage policies of private payers to inform the decision.

“Expanding options for pain treatment is a key piece of the Trump Administrations’ strategy for defeating our country’s opioid crisis,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “President Trump has promised to protect and improve Medicare for our seniors and deciding to cover this new treatment option is another sign of that commitment. Medicare beneficiaries will now have a new option at their disposal to help them deal with chronic low back pain, which is a common and sometimes debilitating condition.”

The decision regarding coverage takes into account an assessment of benefits and harms and the opioid public health crisis. While a small number of adults 65 years of age or older have been enrolled in published acupuncture studies, patients with chronic low back pain in these studies showed improvements in function and pain. The evidence reviewed for this decision supports clinical strategies that include non-pharmacologic therapies for chronic low back pain. Acupuncture is a treatment in which practitioners stimulate specific points on the body, most often by inserting thin needles through the skin. As with other complex diseases, CMS recognizes the importance of having treatment options which allow for an integrated approach that is tailored to the needs and preferences of Medicare patients.

To read the final decision, visit the CMS website