MSP Compliance Blog


Expert summary, analysis and recommendations on issues impacting Medicare Secondary Payer compliance.

Medicare Covers Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain

Posted on February 6, 2020 by Tower MSA

After needling from the medical community, in a sharply written January 21, 2020 decision memo, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) got right to the point in announcing Medicare will now cover acupuncture for chronic low back pain.  The coverage rule provides up to 12 visits in 90 days under the following circumstances:

  • 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; and
    • not associated with pregnancy.
  • An additional eight sessions will be covered for those patients demonstrating an improvement.  No more than 20 acupuncture treatments may be administered annually.
  • Treatment must be discontinued if the patient is not improving or is regressing.

Acupuncture remains non-Medicare covered for any other condition besides chronic low back pain.

Practical Implications

Acupuncture treatment is fairly low cost, similar or lower than PT, and at a limit of no more than 20 acupuncture treatments annually, its inclusion in an MSA would only result in a moderate increase to the allocation. 

It may have a larger impact on reducing MSA dollars as part of an alternative treatment option to opioid or non-opioid medication use.  As CMS states:

Therefore, we believe that in light of the relative safety of the procedure and the grave consequences of the opioid crisis in the United States,  there is sufficient rationale to provide this nonpharmacologic treatment to appropriate beneficiaries with chronic low back pain. 

Acupuncture is not, on its own, the entire answer to reducing opioid use. However, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses both the physical and mental effects of chronic low back pain, acupuncture can be a key component.  As such, Medicare coverage of this treatment is certainly welcomed.

Please contact Dan Anders at daniel.anders@towermsa.com or (888) 331-4941 with any questions.