Evidence shows that as medical costs rise, more Americans are turning to acupuncture as a cost-effective alternative to traditional Western medicine. This article investigates the discrepancy between consumer demand and lack of insurance coverage.
A year after the Affordable Care Act, many Americans still struggle to get their insurance to cover basic medical treatments. There is evidence that more Americans are exploring less expensive alternatives to traditional Western medicine, including acupuncture. A National Health Interview Survey from 2007 estimates that the use of acupuncture had increased among US adults by 0.3% in the previous 5 years, about 1 million people.
Despite consumer demand, most employer-sponsored health plans cover physicals, prescription drugs, and mental health, but only about half cover acupuncture. When we investigate why acupuncture is not covered by insurance, we find that it may be due to the difficulty licensed acupuncturists face in obtaining insurance reimbursements. Patients are told that their treatment should be covered, but when it comes time for the billing department to take care of it, the licensed acupuncturist is not on the “list of licensed persons.”
Additionally, insurance companies that cover acupuncture often limit the number of annual visits their patients can make. This leads to uncovered treatments because effective acupuncture treatments may extend from several weeks to several months.
However, government officials are making steps to expand coverage for acupuncture, like U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey of New York’s 22nd congressional district, who for the ninth year in a row is introducing legislation that would add acupuncture to the list of services covered by Medicare and Federal Employees Health Benefits Program participants. Hinchey will be reintroducing The Federal Acupuncture Coverage Act, which would “ensure that those in need of care aren’t forced to choose more expensive, invasive and risky treatments with a long list of side effects simply because acupuncture isn’t covered.”
Increasing coverage for acupuncture is a step toward the blending of Eastern and Western medicine for cost-effective treatment for all.
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