Acupuncture & Health Insurance coverage in Massachusetts

As a health care provider, I am often asked about acupuncture and health insurance coverage in Massachusetts.  While 11 out of 50 states in the U.S. have some provision for the coverage for acupuncture by insurance (Arkansas, California, Florida, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia), most, including Massachusetts, do not.  Despite the lack of a legal mandate, some insurance providers are beginning to independently offer coverage of acupuncture as part of some of their insurance plans.  The vast majority still do not provide any meaningful coverage and the degree of coverage can vary widely from plan to plan.

There has been an ongoing effort to pass a bill in Massachusetts which would require that insurers cover acupuncture services.  The bills have been slowly wending their way through the state legislature but are currently stuck in committee.  The first bill, H.930 & SB.1231″An act relative to the practice of acupuncture”, would provide the mandate that insurers provide coverage for acupuncture services as part of their plans.  The second bill, H2006 – An Act Relative to the Safe Treatment of Pain, would require that only trained and licensed acupuncturists could provide acupuncture services.  This bill deals with what has become known as “dry needling” or “trigger point needling” and is typically performed by physical therapists who have received no more than a weekend long course.  This compared to acupuncturists, who must complete a rigorous, minimum 3 year Masters degree program with over 3500 hours of training and practice as well as passing 3 to 4 National Board exams and obtaining state licensure.

You may be asking “How can I help?.”   One way is to contact your representative to let them know that you support these bills and would like to see them moved out of committee and presented to the state legislature for a vote.  The Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine Society of Massachusetts (AOMSM) has been coordinating the efforts of practitioners and patients to move these bills through the legislature.    They have set up some easy guidelines for identifying your representative, how to contact them and “talking points” for when you contact them regarding these bills.  If your representative already supports these bills, please thank them.  This shows that they have strong public support for their position and support of this bill.  Keep asking your insurer and employer about coverage for acupuncture services if they do not currently offer it.  If the public expresses strong support for something, companies may be more likely to at least explore the value of offering coverage for that service.  Lastly, talk to your friends and family about this issue.  The more people understand about this, the better they are able to make an informed choice regarding their support for these bills.

For those interested in learning more about this issue, the links below may provide some interesting reading.

Fact Sheet: An Act Relative to the Practice of Acupuncture

SB. 1231: full text of the bill

AOMSM: How you can support Acupuncture in Massachusetts

Acupuncture, Pain & Insurance: Who is really paying the price?