Acupuncture: What Is It and Does Medicare Cover It?
Although acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, it’s still somewhat of a mysterious form of medicine.
Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into the skin at strategic points on your body. This practice is largely known as a treatment for pain relief, but as we’ll soon discover, its power goes far beyond that.
To learn more about acupuncture, why you might need it, what to expect during treatment, and perhaps most importantly, how much it will cost you if you’re over 65, we spoke to Dr. Chris Ntor-Ue, D.C., LAc, a Doctor and Acupuncturist Practitioner at The Back Institute in Forsyth, IL.
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What Is Acupuncture?
Dr. Chris Ntor-Ue explains that acupuncture is a 3000-year-old art used by traditional Chinese medical practitioners, and it has evolved over time.
“Acupuncture is a successful treatment for pain, chronic pain, sleep, psychosomatic and psycho-emotional reasonings, stress anxiety, and smoking cessation,” Dr. Ntor-Ue says.
According to Evidence Based Acupuncture, in a series of systematic reviews performed in 2017, acupuncture was proven as a positive treatment for more than 100 conditions, including:
- Allergic rhinitis
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Acute and chronic low back pain
- Headache – tension related and chronic
- Migraine prevention
- Knee osteoarthritis
- Postoperative nausea and vomiting
- Postoperative pain
- Asthma in adults
While the possibilities for treatment are exciting, many worry about the safety of needles being inserted through your skin. However, Dr. Ntor-Ue says there’s nothing to worry about: “It’s a safe practice for anyone.”
Why Seek Acupuncture Treatment?
Even though acupuncture can be used for a wide variety of issues, Dr. Ntor-Ue says the most common senior citizen ailments he treats are sleep and pain, with osteoarthritis pain being the No. 1 problem.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and affects millions of people worldwide. The Mayo Clinic states that although osteoarthritis can damage any joint, the most commonly affected joints are the hands, knees, hips, and spine.
Risk factors for osteoarthritis include:
- Older age
- Gender – women tend to suffer from osteoarthritis, for reasons unknown
- Joint injuries
- Repeated stress to the joint
- Bone deformities
- Certain metabolic diseases
Dr. Ntore-Ue tells us that osteoarthritis commonly comes with a lot of swelling, pain, and pressure, and the use of acupuncture can relieve all of those symptoms.
He uses full-body acupuncture, “a traditional Chinese medicine style,” where the accumulation of body points produces a full-body analgesic (pain-relieving) effect based on increased blood flow from the treatment.
“It’s not painful,” Dr. Ntor-Ue says. “People have different reactions to the procedure, but the most painful part is the initial stick of the needle.”
As the needle goes into the muscle under the skin, you’ll feel a dull warming sensation, and the skin around the needle might turn red, but that’s completely normal.
What Can You Expect During an Acupuncture Treatment?
First-time patients at The Back Institute will undergo a pretty extensive initial exam.
When going to Dr. Ntor-Ue for pain, he will needle the points of pain, but he also will needle peripheral points to help control the pain, especially if it’s chronic. He will have you answer a 10 question inquiry which is very similar to the review of systems that other physicians may give their patients.
These questions will cover things such as:
- Your current thirst level and how it is quenched
- Body temperature issues
- If you are experiencing pain, and if so, where and to what extent
- The quality of your sleep
- Any emotions you may be feeling
He will then do a pulse and tongue exam where he will feel the quality of the pulse on both sides of your hand and then look at the condition and quality of your tongue.
“Given those three things – inquiry, the pulse, and tongue diagnosis – I am able to select the constellation points to help balance out the patient,” he explains.
This diagnosis enables your treatment to be customized to fit your individual needs.
The typical appointment lasts about an hour. About 20-40 minutes of the total appointment involves being needled. Dr. Ntor-Ue says that everyone’s experience varies, but some people will feel relief immediately, and with others, it will take a few visits.
Does Medicare Cover the Cost of Acupuncture?
In short, the answer to this is no, Medicare does not cover the cost of acupuncture. This also means your Medicare Supplement cannot cover the cost of acupuncture, as it only supplements the coverage that Medicare provides.
Because Medicare doesn't cover acupuncture, Medicare Advantage plans are not required to cover it either.
The only senior health insurance product that offers coverage for acupuncture is the Medicare Medical Savings Account. The MSA offered in central Illinois is from Lasso Healthcare, and it has a $3,240 deposit for the 2020 plan. You can use some or all of that $3,240 deposit for acupuncture treatments, but it would NOT count towards your $7,400 deductible.
(Acupuncture is an IRS Qualified Medical Expense, which means you are allowed to use your MSA funds to pay for it. However, because acupuncture is not a Medicare-approved expense, it cannot count toward your MSA deductible.)
Checking with your insurance provider is the best way to find out if this type of treatment will be covered.
The Back Institute is aware that Medicare doesn’t cover acupuncture and tries to keep its treatment prices within reach for everyone. Usually, relief from acupuncture involves a series of treatments. The Back Institute typically treats problems in a series of 6 treatments with each treatment costing $45.00.
First-time patients who receive the extensive initial exam will pay a fee that’s not covered in the $45 acupuncture treatment cost. This, however, is a one-time fee and is the only other cost associated with the treatments.
The Back Institute also offers a price cut to all their patients – not just senior citizens. If you purchase 5 treatments up front for $225, the 6th treatment is free. So, essentially, you receive the 6 treatments they feel are necessary for the price of 5.
Acupuncture and Medicare
While Medicare doesn’t cover acupuncture, and Medicare Advantage might or might not cover the procedure, it is becoming an accepted form of treatment for many ailments.
If you are experiencing pain, having a hard time sleeping, suffering from stress or anxiety, or need to quit smoking, acupuncture just might be your solution.
The Back Institute and Dr. Ntor-Ue would be happy to offer you relief solutions, and if you are not local to the Forsyth-Decatur area, it might be worth looking up an acupuncturist near you.
Chris Ntor-Ue is the newest Doctor at The Back Institute. After graduating from Cerro Gordo HS in Illinois, Chris went on to play football at Millikin University. After completing his Bachelor's degree, Chris went on to attain a Master's in Acupuncture and his Doctor of Chiropractic at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinois.
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