“By focusing on older adults and addressing the limitations of previous published research, evidence derived from this initiative would assist [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] in determining future Medicare coverage for acupuncture,” according to the announcement.
The proposal is part of the government’s effort to develop alternatives to narcotics as treatment for pain.
The eligible studies must be sponsored by the National Institutes of Health or approved by CMS.
Chronic low back pain — generally defined as pain that lasts 12 weeks or more — is a complex disorder with numerous causes that afflicts millions of people. There is widespread agreement that health-care providers have overused powerful opioid painkillers to address it.
Currently, Medicare covers injections, braces, implanted neurostimulators and chiropractic care as well as drugs for chronic low-back pain, under certain conditions set by the program. But Monday’s announcement said there is too little research on the use of acupuncture among older people to make a good decision on whether it should be widely covered.