President Obama Supports Acupuncture

on 14 January 2010.

1-14-2010: Healthcare reform may include alternative medicine therapy language. In a recent town hall meeting in St. Louis, MO, President Obama noted that he supports acupuncture. A licensed acupuncturist noted that the National Institutes of Health and the Wold Health Organization have “discovered through their studies that alternative medicine is often more cost-effective and very effective”. The President replied, “it is pretty well documented through scientific studies that acupuncture, for example, can be very helpful in relieving certain things like migraines and other ailments — or at least as effective as more intrusive interventions”. He also discussed the challenges of integrating preventative medicine into policy making noting that the new Secretary of Health and Human Service, Kathleen Sebelius, former governor of Kansas, is charged with the task of implementing effective healthcare solutions.
In the St. Louis 4-29-09 meeting, Obama noted that policymakers are reticent to invest in preventative medicine because the political payoff is long-term and therefore does not help with immediate re-election concerns. The President further commented that “in the private sector insurance system, oftentimes insurers make the same calculation. Their attitude is, well, people change jobs enough for us to pay for the preventive medicine now when the problem may not crop up for another 20 years and they’ll be long out of our system, so we don’t want to reimburse it because it will make things more costly. That’s the logic of our health care system that we’re going to have to change”. Obama went on to state that the “recovery package put a huge amount in prevention”.

Acupuncture first received national attention in 1972 when President Nixon went to China and New York Times reporter James Reston successfully received acupuncture resulting in successful post-operative pain control. In 1997, the US National Institutes of Health published a report supporting the safety and effectiveness of acupuncture treatments for a wide range of healthcare issues. Under the Clinton administration, the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy was formed and The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) became part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Great Britain recently added acupuncture into its national healthcare system. Private insurers in the US including AETNA, United Healthcare, Blue Cross, and Blue Shield offer acupuncture insurance coverage options in their policies. However, it is unclear at this stage whether or not acupuncture and alternative medicine regulation will appear in federal law. Technically, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) does not list acupuncture as a unique profession in the US Standard Occupational Classification codes. Rather, acupuncture is listed only as a modality. This technical glitch prevents acupuncture by licensed acupuncturists from inclusion into Medicare and Medicaid along with insurance coverage for federal employees. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) has collaborated with other national organizations to fix this omission.

Acupuncture is already practiced in several major hospitals including Cedars Sinai, UCSF, Maui Memorial, Clifton Springs, and Novato hospitals. The Harvard Medical School Osher Institute also supports the use of acupuncture and conducts ongoing studies. The advent of healthcare reform sheds light on the cost-effectiveness issue. Given the research and practical application supporting acupuncture as an effective means to control pain and treat illness, the federal government may open the door to alternative therapies in an attempt to reduce healthcare costs.

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