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Opioid crisis puts acupuncture on the menu for Medicaid in some US states

Acupuncture is covered extensively in the US by private health insurance but state funded Medicare and Medicaid services have been slow to follow suit. Medicaid is funded jointly by the federal government and individual states, to supply health cover for people on low incomes, children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with disabilities. Now a few states are offering acupuncture as part of this cover.

Oregon (
2012-13: pregnancy related conditions, migraine, tension headaches, depression and mood disorders, knee osteoarthritis, neck pain. Chemical dependency has been covered for a longer time.

Ohio (
2017: back pain, migraine. Acupuncturists are pressing for this to be extended to other conditions.

Vermont (
2016: Pilot project run with acupuncture for chronic pain (various conditions across the board). The results were largely positive but not compelling enough for the legislative leaders: no firm decisions have been made about subsequent cover.

Maine (
2017: Pilot project planned, using ear acupuncture for substance misuse.

This little flurry of activity has been driven by what’s popularly known as the ‘opioid crisis’. There’s a growing realisation that the increasing levels of use of opioid pain killers are unsustainable in terms of the side effects of these drugs. The biggest users are the US, hence the pressures there for policies to deal with it. You can read here ( the submission from a joint acupuncture task force in response to a US government request for public input. It summarises the research evidence supporting acupuncture as a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain. As yet there’s no federal push for acupuncture in the health insurance programmes but there is funding going into research on non-drug alternatives to opioids.

Hopefully, in time, the combination of new research findings and popular pressure will encourage more states, and indeed the federal government, to cover acupuncture for public health insurance.

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