Medicare moving toward covering acupuncture for back pain

In this April 10, 2019 file photo, a sign is shown during a news conference to reintroduce "Medicare for All" legislation, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Medicare says it's moving toward potentially covering acupuncture for chronic low back pain as an alternative to opioid painkillers that can become addictive.

The agency announced its initial decision Monday. For now, access will be limited to seniors signed up in government-approved clinical studies. Medicare says more evidence is needed before broad approval can be considered.

A cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is believed to be thousands of years old. Trained practitioners insert thin needles at predetermined trigger points in the body to relieve pain and treat various conditions.

Acupuncture has gained acceptance in the U.S., but insurance coverage remains limited and patients generally pay for it themselves.

Many clinicians in Western nations remain skeptical of acupuncture, but the National Institutes of Health says research shows some pain-management benefits.

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