One of the most frequent questions I hear from a new patient is whether or not their health insurance will pay for their acupuncture visits. While I am not a provider for any health insurance plans, my standard advice is to check with the health insurance plan and ask them specifically if they cover acupuncture.
Frequently, a patient will get back to me after checking about their coverage, and they’re frustrated. Yes, their plan will cover acupuncture, but only if it’s performed by a doctor in a pain clinic. Or only if it’s performed by a doctor. Or only if it’s performed by a chiropractor.
This answer from the health insurance companies means a number of things. First, what they won’t cover is acupuncture performed by a licensed acupuncturist. Licensed is a term for an acupuncture provider who has about 3,000 hours of training and is licensed by the Minnesota State Board of Medical Examiners. Second, it means that they will cover acupuncture if it’s performed by a chiropractor, who only needs 105 hours of training in acupuncture (in Minnesota) or a physician who only needs about 50 to 100 hours of acupuncture education.
For years, this issue has been contentious for licensed acupuncturists, who have an extensive education in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, as well as the experience of over 650 clinical hours before they can practice. It is also a consumer issue, as most people are not aware that the doctor or chiropractor who is performing acupuncture usually has studied acupuncture during a series of weekend seminars. It is also frustrating to talk to people who have not had effective results from acupuncture, only to find that they were unknowingly seeing a practitioner with minimal training.
However, as of last week, this is no longer the case.
Last week, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty signed a bill into law that provides equal access to acupuncture services performed by licensed acupuncturists. What this means is that if a health plan covers acupuncture, their coverage must also cover the services of licensed acupuncturists—the ones with years of comprehensive training and understanding of Chinese medicine.
It’s about time!