Residents using opioids and other means to help treat their lower back pain will have an additional treatment option under Medicare.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Tuesday that the program will cover acupuncture treatments for patients with chronic lower back pain.
The agency first announced the proposal last July as an effort to decrease the utilization of opioid painkillers. Research recently found that emergency room visits by seniors who misused opioids more than tripled between 2006 and 2014.
“Expanding options for pain treatment is a key piece of the Trump Administrations’ strategy for defeating our country’s opioid crisis,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.
CMS said the change comes as additional studies have shown the effectiveness of nonpharmacologic therapies for chronic low back pain, including acupuncture.
A Boston University study found that people who go to a physical therapist or chiropractor for lower back pain first, rather than a primary care physicians, are less likely to be prescribed opioids.
“We are building on important lessons learned from the private sector in this critical aspect of patient care. Over-reliance on opioids for people with chronic pain is one of the factors that led to the crisis, so it is vital that we offer a range of treatment options for our beneficiaries,” Kimberly Brandt, CMS’ principal deputy administrator of operations and policy, added.