CMS Proposes to Cover Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain for Medicare Beneficiaries Enrolled in Approved Studies

On July 5, 2019, CMS issued a proposed decision to cover acupuncture for the treatment of low back pain in very specific circumstances.

Citing an effort to avoid opioid use, this decision would allow access to acupuncture for Medicare benefiaries who are enrolled in medical studies to allow CMS to review the data and the effect of acupuncture on the treatment of chronic low back pain.

Per the decision, CMS proposed to cover acupuncture with patients with chronic low back pain who are enrolled in clinical trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or in a CMS approved study. Furthermore, the rule indicates that the aforementioned studies must address and adhere to the following:

  • Enrollment of Medicare beneficiaries based on broad eligibility criteria to maximize diversity and minimize intentional or unintentional exclusions based on risk, multi-morbidity, age, health literacy, demographics, or expected adherence.
  • For the purpose of this decision, chronic low back pain (CLBP) is defined as:
    • lasting 12 weeks or longer;
    • nonspecific, in that it has no identifiable systemic cause (i.e., not associated with metastatic, inflammatory, infectious, etc. disease);
    • not associated with surgery within 12 weeks of enrollment in the study; and
    • not associated with pregnancy.
  • A minimum 12-week acupuncture intervention versus usual care or other intervention for chronic low back pain.
  • Endpoints must be measured at 12 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months after enrollment, with comparison to usual care, or other planned comparator arm.  
  • The protocol design must incorporate rigorous controls, prospectively identified, preferably by randomization.  If another method is used to generate the comparison group, it should provide comparable rigor.
  • Be consistent with for the Standards for Reporting Interventions in Controlled Trials of Acupuncture (STRICTA) guidelines.

In summary, CMS has been actively working towards their agenda of fighting the opioid crisis through policy. However, although this is certainly a move in the right direction, this benefit will not be immediately seen for most beneficiaries. Unless prescribers begin to refer to clinical studies that meet the above mentioned qualifications, this treatment will still not be covered until a second decision is made upon the review of the data collected from clinical studies.

To read the notification in its entirety, the link can be found here.

The GRSM Medicare Compliance Group will continue to monitor this, and other coverage matters. Please contact rmaldonado@grsm.com should you have any questions or concerns.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *