Does Medicare cover acupuncture? What about naturopathic doctors? More and more these days, we get calls from Medicare beneficiaries asking whether Medicare covers acupuncture or holistic medicine. As technology advances, so does our understanding of natural medicines, and many baby boomers aging into Medicare today want to have naturopathic options.
But what does Medicare cover? Learn more in this post.
What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic medicine is the practice of using therapeutic methods to both treat and prevent health issues. Many think of naturopathic medicine to be a philosophy of life. Naturopathic physicians believe that healing power comes from within one’s body rather than prescription drugs.
The founder of naturopathy, Dr. Benedict Lust, first studied under Father Kneipp. Lust brought over Kneipp’s practices from Germany to America in 1892. In 1902, Lust began the American School of Naturopathy.
Naturopathic physicians follow six main principles in practice. These principles are:
- The Healing Power of Nature: the process of self-healing
- Identify and Treat the Causes: fully removing underlying causes rather than suppressing symptoms
- First, Do No Harm: minimizing harmful side effects as much as possible
- Doctor as Teacher: teaching the patient self-responsibility
- Treat the Whole Person: creating treatment while keeping in mind the patient’s life factors
- Prevention: preventing disease from occurring in the first place
Naturopathic practice includes many techniques. All of which, naturopathic physicians put their six principles into action. However, there is one technique that has been around for 2,500 years and has become a desired therapy of naturopathic physicians. This technique is acupuncture.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a technique where needles are inserted throughout the body. The purpose of acupuncture is to promote natural healing. However, the most common use of acupuncture is to relieve pain.
As you age, pain throughout the body is inevitable. In recent years, Baby Boomers are increasingly turning to acupuncture for pain relief.
Many naturopathic physicians treat issues such as carpal tunnel, arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, and sciatica with acupuncture. Though, before you rush to schedule your first acupuncture treatment, you should know whether Medicare covers it.
Does Medicare Cover Acupuncture?
The primary rule of Original Medicare is that anything considered medically necessary, is covered. As of right now, acupuncture (or any naturopathic medicine) is not considered medically necessary by Original Medicare.
Therefore, the answer is no. Acupuncture is not covered by Original Medicare.
This lack of coverage will leave you paying out-of-pocket for any acupuncture treatments if you have Original Medicare. Depending upon how many treatments you receive, you could be looking at spending hundreds of dollars. If you are enroll in a Medigap plan, it also cannot cover anything that Medicare doesn’t allow
With that said, there is a caveat that could work in your favor. Some Medicare Advantage plans can cover acupuncture. Medicare Advantage plans are an alternative to Original Medicare. The plan takes your Part A and Part B of Original Medicare and combines it with other benefits such as dental, vision, and hearing.
It is important to note, each Advantage plan is different so you will need to look up your benefits for your specific plan. In some areas of the country where holistic medicine is more commonly practiced, like California, you may find more Advantage plans who offer integrative benefits like acupuncture.
The Future Outlook on Medicare Coverage for Naturopathy
In conclusion, there is room for the Medicare coverage status to change. Studies show that a growing number of seniors prefer naturopathic medicine.
In fact, 75% of Medicare beneficiaries said that they’d like their physicians to first try natural remedies as treatment for their medical issues. Because of this, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners launched a pilot project at the DC Federal Legislative Initiative that would show the benefits of naturopathic medicine for seniors.
Mainly, the AANP is pushing for the senior population to rely less on prescription drugs. Naturopathic physicians truly believe that they are more fit to manage patients’ prescriptions. There are much higher rates of over-prescribing from non-naturopathic doctors with their senior patients. Over-prescribing can lead to dangerous drug interactions, bad side effects, and even drug addiction in seniors.
The naturopathy community is working to be recognized in all U.S. states. As of 2018, only twenty states offer licensure and registration for naturopathic physicians. However, there are a few states that have bills pending to allow licensing to naturopathic physicians.
As regulations change, Medicare beneficiaries may be able to receive better coverage options for treatments such as acupuncture. So if you find a new plan in the future that offers holistic benefits that you want, you might be able to change to that Medicare plan during a coming annual election period.
Find the Right Plan for You
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