The acupuncture profession will officially get a response from the Obama administration on the inclusion of acupuncture in the Medicare system. A formal petition to the White House passed today. This mandates a response by the White House. Auspiciously, this is also the first day of the Chinese New Year.
We ring in the Chinese Year of the Snake with over 26,000 signatures on the acupuncture petition. The petition went over the top by passing the 25,000 signature threshold required to mandate a formal response by the White House. The petition notes that many professions are recognized in the Social Security Act and are therefore included in the Medicare system. Dieticians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurse midwives and clinical social workers are already included in the system. Absent is the federal recognition of licensed acupuncturists despite their formal, legal and well-regulated inclusion in almost every state. As a result, Medicare reimbursement is not possible for acupuncture therapy.
Many people look forward to becoming eligible for Medicare benefits. Unfortunately, a majority of health insurance plans that cover acupuncture for those without Medicare benefits drop acupuncture as a benefit once the insured party becomes eligible for Medicare. These plans abruptly slash acupuncture health insurance coverage citing that if the service is not reimbursable under Medicare, then the secondary insurance will not cover it either. Inclusion of acupuncture in the Medicare system will close this loophole and allow the insured to continue receipt of acupuncture benefits.
Recently, California and Maryland went so far as to mandate acupuncture coverage in all health insurance plans for individuals and small groups. The regulations made by these states were required by Obama’s new healthcare legislation requiring state guidelines for the implementation of preventative medicine and pain management. The California and Maryland legislatures both chose to include acupuncture as part of a comprehensive healthcare plan.
The federal government is far behind the states in recognizing and regulating licensed acupuncturists. For example, the California Acupuncture Board, a division of California’s Department of Consumer Affairs, has long regulated the licensing and oversight of licensed acupuncturists. In a similar fashion, the Maryland Board of Acupuncture is responsible for oversight of licensed acupuncturists. The same is true of most states. Each has a licensing board that carefully outlines educational standards and training requirements in addition to licensing and professional oversight.
Taking a step beyond state by state legislation formalizing acupuncturists as licensed professionals is the NCCAOM, the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This non-profit organization validates entry level competency for acupuncture and Oriental medicine through a rigorous professional certification program. Most states require this certification prior to licensing acupuncturists. The NCCAOM ran an effective email campaign to draw awareness to the White House petition. As a result of their proactive outreach, the petition has passed.
The petition notes that acupuncture research demonstrates that patients utilizing acupuncture therapy recover more quickly than those without acupuncture care. In addition, the petition notes that patients require less medication when acupuncture is part of a treatment program. The petition requests that acupuncturists become recognized healthcare providers under the Social Security Act thereby making reimbursement for acupuncture therapy possible under the Medicare system. With more than the required 25,000 signatures within a one month period, the White House will respond to the petition with a formal statement.