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Tuesday January 26, 2021

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Acupuncture: Does It Work and Is It Covered by Medicare?

Is acupuncture a viable treatment for pain and is it covered by Medicare? Since the pandemic hit, I have a lot of lower back and neck pain and am wondering if it is worth trying. What can you tell me?

Many studies, including studies funded by the National Institutes of Health, have found acupuncture to be very effective in easing pain and potentially helpful with a variety of other ailments too. Here is what you should know.

Acupuncture Treatment


First used in China more than 2,000 years ago, acupuncture has become increasingly popular in the United States over the past decade. While acupuncture is not a cure-all treatment, it is generally a safe, drug-free option for relieving many different types of pain. It may relieve low back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, postoperative pain, tennis elbow, carpel tunnel syndrome, dental pain and more. Studies have also shown that acupuncture can be helpful in treating asthma, depression, digestive disorders, menopause symptoms (such as hot flashes) and nausea caused by chemotherapy or anesthesia.

Exactly how or why acupuncture works is not fully understood. Most practitioners believe that acupuncture works because it stimulates the nerves causing the release of endorphins, which are the body's natural painkiller hormones. Acupuncture may increase blood circulation, decrease inflammation and stimulate the immune system.

What to Expect


During acupuncture, practitioners stimulate specific points on the body by inserting thin needles through the skin. The needles are as thin as a cat's whisker and are solid, sterile, disposable and for single-use.

The number of needles used for each treatment can vary anywhere from a few, up to a dozen or more. Placement of the needles depends on the condition being treated. The needles are typically inserted about one-quarter of an inch to one-inch deep and left in place for about 20 minutes. After placement, the needles are sometimes twirled, manipulated or stimulated with electricity or heat.

You may feel a brief, sharp sensation when the needle is inserted, but generally it is not painful. Once the needle is in place, you may feel a tingling sensation, numbness, mild pressure or warmth.

The number of treatments you will need depends on the severity of your condition. It is very common to have sessions on a weekly or biweekly frequency with a total of 12 sessions completed. It is also important to know that acupuncture can be used by itself or in conjunction with other conventional medical treatments.

Cost and Coverage


The cost per treatment typically ranges from $40 to $150, depending on your location and what style of treatment you are receiving.

An increasing number of private insurance plans, including some Medicare Advantage plans and policies provided by employers offer some type of acupuncture coverage.

You will also be happy to know that in January 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that original Medicare plans will now cover up to 12 acupuncture sessions in 90 days for patients with chronic lower back pain. Eight additional sessions can be added if patients show improvement.

In order to receive Medicare coverage, you must use a licensed acupuncturist who is supervised by a medical doctor, physician assistant or nurse practitioner trained in acupuncture. Licensed acupuncturists cannot bill Medicare directly, so the supervising professional will need to process the acupuncture claim.

To find an acupuncturist in your area, you can search online or ask your doctor for a referral. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and the American Academy of Medical Acupuncturists are two organizations that offer a directory of certified acupuncturists.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published January 22, 2021
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