Medicare to Cover Acupuncture in Chronic Low Back Pain Study


With the recent opioid epidemic outcry, and associated legislation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently approved funding  for large-scale trials to evaluate effectiveness, and develop strategies to best implement, acupuncture treatment of older adults (65 years and older) with chronic low back pain.

On July 15, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed covering acupuncture for Medicare patients with chronic low back pain who are enrolled participants either in clinical trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or in CMS-approved studies.  Acupuncture currently is not covered by Medicare.

Over the last couple of decades, numerous studies have been applied to test the efficacy of acupuncture int treating chronic pain, and low back pain in particular.  The evidence is very favorable.  CMS recognized that the evidence base for acupuncture has grown in recent years, but they still have questions.  Under the proposed decision, CMS would continue its collaboration with NIH to further develop evidence to inform future Medicare coverage determinations for acupuncture treatment for beneficiaries with chronic low back pain.  Chronic low back pain impacts innumerable Americans, including Medicare and Medicaid patients, and is a leading reason for opioid prescriptions.

We are on the road for Medicare to cover acupuncture, at least for chronic low back pain.  Acupuncture is currently used by the military, on its bases, and in war zones, though they do not yet insure for it.  The Veteran’s Association now covers acupuncture effective for veterans who suffer from:

  1. Pain associated with an injury or illness
  2. Nausea and vomiting after an operation
  3. Nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy
  4. Knee pain from osteoarthritis
  5. Low back pain
  6. Depression or other mental health concerns
  7. Substance dependency

As a nation, we are beginning to accept that this ancient technique can have far reaching effects for our health.  As usual, insurance lags behind, but the tide is turning.  Numerous insurance companies offer acupuncture coverage, though often only with higher end plans.  More is covered every day.

Here at Acupuncture & Herbal Answers, we are a provider for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Rhode Island, through which we can submit to all other Blue Cross/Blue Shield companies, including our Federal program.  We also offer a standard HICF form to our patients who are covered by other companies.  We hope to soon be able to offer direct coverage for our veterans.

Check with your insurance company to see if you are covered, how many yearly visits are allowed, and what your copay is: you may be delightfully surprised to see how affordable it is for you.

3 AcuPoints for Anxiety


One of the most wonderful things about being an acupuncturist is the ability to stimulate points on my own body when I need to. If I get a headache, or feel a cold coming on, I can always hop up on my table for a quick tune-up with some needles. Even when I’m not at the office, the magic of acupuncture can still work for me – as long as I know where the points are and what they do, I can press on them and get results. continue reading »

Take Action Now to Require Insurance to Cover Acupuncture!


Recent attention on the Opioid Crisis has highlighted the incredible numbers of people suffering from chronic pain.  Changes in national and state laws are being made.  Here in Rhode Island, we are nearing votes on bills in our general assembly:

These would require insurance companies pay for non-opioid pain treatments including acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.  If you value acupuncture, and wish to assure its coverage by your health insurance, please consider contacting one or more of our state senators or representatives.  Here are some easy ways, including a sample letter from our Rhode Island Society of Acupuncture:

It’s time to take action.

The bills requiring insurance coverage for acupuncture and other non-opioid treatment modalities are at a crossroads.  We need your help.  Please copy and past this form letter below, modify it to personalize, and send to the Representatives and Senators on this list ASAP.

Urge your friends, and family to do the same!

House Bill H5120

The Honorable Nicholas A. Mattiello, Speaker of the House of Representatives
The Honorable Joseph M. McNamara, Chairman of House HEW                      
The Honorable Michael A. Morin, Primary Sponsor of 2019 H5120                 

Senate Bill S0068

The Honorable Dominick J. Ruggerio, President of the Senate
The Honorable Joshua Miller, Chairman of Senate HHS           
The Honorable Roger A. Picard, Primary Sponsor of 2019 S0068

The fate of this legislation will be decided in the next week or two, so time is of the essence!  The suggested email to these House and Senate leaders is below:

Please title the email: “Please Support the Non-Opioid Pain Treatment Bill (bill # – insert H5120 or S0068)”

Dear (insert name of legislator)

My name is (insert name). I am writing to request your support for bill # – (insert H5120 or S0068).  This legislation is important because it will help address the opioid crisis by requiring that the safe, conservative, non-opioid pain treatments of massage therapy, acupuncture, occupational therapy, and physical therapy are fully covered by insurance.  Patients must have affordable access to all these therapies to prevent further individuals from becoming addicted to prescription opioids.

This bill is an issue of fairness.  Rhode Islanders of all financial means deserve fuller access to non-opioid pain treatments.  Opioid deaths in the United States continue to increase.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), opioid prescriptions were involved in more than 35% of all opioid related deaths in 2017.1
A research study from Washington State found that patients using non-opioid pain treatments had lower insurance costs than those patients not using such treatments. (If you can reference an insurance claim with costs of prescription or treatment related to opioid use, put your example here).

In 2016, the CDC issued guidelines on chronic pain that recommended that “nonpharmacologic therapy and nonopioid pharmacologic therapy are preferred for chronic pain”3 and that non-opioid therapies are less expensive than opioids due in part to the high costs of opioid addiction and overdose.  Importantly, the Governor’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force states “It’s time to change how we treat pain—opioids don’t need to be the first line of defense”.4

(Insert personal story here if applicable)

By voting to pass this bill, you will increase access to better healthcare overall and will help reduce the number of addictions and deaths resulting from opioid prescription use.

Thank you for your support!
(Your name and address)


Extraordinary Vessels – Chong Mai


Most acupuncture points are located on the 12 primary channels that flow along the surface of the body. However, there are eight Extraordinary Vessels that flow more deeply in the body, and are perhaps even more powerful that the 12 primary channels. The Extraordinary Vessels regulate the 12 channels, and are deep lakes of energy, which can feed the 12 primary channels when they are depleted. continue reading »

Extraordinary Vessels – Dai Mai


In addition to the 12 main acupuncture meridians that flow along the surface of the body, there are also deeper channels of energy in the body called the Extraordinary Vessels. You can understand the relationship between the primary acupuncture channels and the Extraordinary Vessels by thinking about what happens when it rains: first, small ditches become full – these are the collateral vessels that break off of the 12 main channels. Next, the reservoirs become full, which are the 12 primary channels. When they are full, they overflow into the Extraordinary Vessels, which are deep and vast lakes of energy within the body. continue reading »

Five Reasons Acupuncture Helps Digestive Function


Digestion is a complex task performed by the body. It begins in the mouth and finishes when the ingested food leaves the body through the rectum. For all we have learned over the years regarding digestion, there is still so much more we don’t know or are still learning. For example, it wasn’t until recently, the last 10 years or so, that modern medicine confirmed our gastrointestinal tract is our second brain. This discovery is drastically changing the way the body and its many functions are viewed, because everything we put in our mouths can potentially have life-altering effects on the mind, as well as the body.  continue reading »

Five Reasons to Get Acupuncture for Migraines


Migraine headaches are a bit of mystery to the medical world. This ailment tends to be poorly understood and frequently undiagnosed and under-treated. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, this neurological disease affects nearly 39 million Americans. Migraines are characterized by severe, throbbing pain usually found on only one side of the head. Migraine headaches can also be accompanied by visual disturbances, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. These types of headaches can last from four hours to several days. Because modern medicine doesn’t completely understand this neurological phenomenon, the typical treatment is somewhat hit or miss. continue reading »

Acupuncture for Harnessing Willpower


Harness your willpower with acupuncture

Ever had one of those days or weeks where you just can’t pull yourself out of bed in the morning? Or perhaps you just can’t say “No!” to the dessert tray. Regardless of the activity, willpower is what keeps some people disciplined. But it doesn’t make you a bad person if you have dessert with every meal, buy more shoes than you really need or take longer to get going in the morning. It just means your willpower isn’t strong. And just like any other habit, that can be changed. continue reading »

TCM and Seasonal Affective Disorder


Traditional Chinese Medicine and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a form of depression that affects people all throughout the world. Most commonly experienced during fall and winter months, the symptoms of SAD include depression, hypersomnia, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, negative thoughts and decreased social interaction. Higher levels of anxiety are experienced at the end of the summer season as those who suffer from this ailment start to anticipate the coming months of less sunshine and increased symptomatology.  continue reading »

Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Remaps the Brain



New Study Suggests Acupuncture Can Remap the Brain to Relieve Chronic Pain

Research shows acupuncture can be effective in the treatment of chronic pain sufferers.

Acupuncture is a medical treatment that involves inserting very thin needles into the body at very specific locations. The pins are left in for varying amounts of time. Acupuncture is associated with the treatment for pain, migraines, muscles tightness and injury recovery.

The procedure originated in China several thousand years ago and still plays a critical role in Chinese medicine. Doctors who conform to a western style of thinking have developed acupuncture with a focus on human anatomy. Acupuncture has been growing in popularity and is being adapted into many ‘normalized’ medical treatments.

New Study Suggests Acupuncture Can Remap the Brain to Relieve Chronic Pain
Source: Pixabay

The procedure still has many critics that dismiss the practice as an archaic method of treatment that relies on superstition rather than hard fact. There has been some clinical research into the use of chronic pain treatment by acupuncture. But like many studies into the treatment of chronic pain, many of these have found it difficult to get clear results as setting a baseline for pain is extremely difficult. Each person experiences pain very differently and so setting measurable indicators is very difficult.

But one study that was able to determine objective outcomes was a recent investigation into the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). This is a neuropathic pain disorder caused by pressure on the median nerve in your wrist. A patient’s pain levels can be validated by measuring electrical conduction across the median nerve. The study also examined the way the patients’ brains reacted to the pain from CTS.


See How Painkillers Work in Your Brain and Body

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans of the selected patients showed that when particular fingers were manipulated that would increase the pressure on the meridian nerve (and therefore the pain associated with CTS) the brain scans showed areas of the brain as blurry. To put it simply, one part of the brain, known as the primary somatosensory cortex is ‘remapped’ by CTS. The scans show this as a blurry patch when the nerve is affected.

During the clinical experiment, patients suffering from CTS were divided into two groups. The first group was given real acupuncture treatment, the second group was given sham acupuncture. Sham acupuncture is a clinical method of acupuncture where acupuncture needles have been blunted making them unable to adequately pierce the body to give ‘true’ acupuncture effects. All patients in the study reported having improved symptoms of CTS (that is they experienced less pain or discomfort). At this point, it would be easy to say that acupuncture is therefore effectively useless as the sham and the true procedure returned the same results. However, the patients that received the real acupuncture actually experience long-term improvement of their health, while sham patients did not. The same part of the brain was re-scanned following the acupuncture treatment and shows that S1 re-mapping immediately following therapy was linked with better long-term symptom reduction.

Researchers have concluded that this study is a good example of the way acupuncture not only works in a bodily and mental response (ie the patients felt better) but it also has proven neurological effects. While there are still many questions to be answered about the ways that acupuncture actually relieves pain, this study is the first in many exciting steps to using acupuncture as a reliable way to treat chronic pain.