Massachusetts Largest Health Plan Announces Acupuncture Coverage
In October of 2019, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Massachusetts announced that they will begin to offer coverage for acupuncture services beginning January 1, 2020. BCBS is the state's largest health plan and one of the first to offer this benefit.
"We are constantly looking at creative, non-opioid approaches to treating pain," said Ken Duckworth, MD, in the BCBS announcement. "We know many people find acupuncture to be beneficial for a number of conditions, so we're pleased to offer it as an option to our members. This could also be another step in helping to reduce the number of inappropriate opioid prescriptions being written in Massachusetts."
The news is an exciting change for acupuncturists in Massachusetts who will now be able to apply for reimbursement from BCBS. Stephen Cina, MAOM, Lic. Ac., ATC, NASM CES, faculty member at the New England School of Acupuncture at MCPHS, agrees and recognizes this announcement as a huge boost for students considering a career in acupuncture.
"It’s a great direction that this organization has taken and Massachusetts, the state association has been fighting for acupuncture coverage for many, many years," says Cina. "We also have a national organization, the American Society of Acupuncturists, the ASA, who went down to DC just last year to fight for coverage. The position was always to mandate the insurance companies to cover acupuncture, which is kind of a tricky thing to do or ask for but to see Blue Cross Blue Shield take the lead in some ways it’s been really great for that."
Though there are some smaller Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans and state-funded plans, like MassHealth, that already cover acupuncture, having a large insurance company acknowledge that it wants to cover these services could mean we will see a surge in interest within the industry. Cina recalls a quote he heard that "Once acupuncture is covered by mainstream insurance companies, there will not be enough acupuncturists in the country to cover it.”
With the opioid epidemic sweeping the country, many practitioners and payer organizations have looked to find non-opioid solutions to pain management and other conditions. The BCBS announcement says Cina, "is giving it the sort of green light, or go ahead, to say acupuncture is a viable integrative medicine strategy to treat things without using opioids or non-pharmacological approaches to pain, since pain is the number one reason that most people see acupuncturists for."
The hope is that many more insurance companies will follow BCBS's lead and create a domino effect of coverage. So what does this mean for students considering a career in acupuncture?
For Cina and the New England School of Acupuncture, there is certainly room for growth. "Can we accommodate many more students than we currently have? I would say absolutely yes," says Cina. "The University has been very kind to us in building out this facility and giving us the means for expanding our program to much larger cohorts of students. I expect that we’ll just see more of that as time goes on, people will be more exposed to acupuncture and Chinese medicine and they’ll be more interested in doing things that do not necessarily fall under western medicine or allopathic care."
Graduates of the acupuncture program typically hope to establish a practice and be profitable within two to five years. Now with insurance coverage, Cina believes that students will be able to hit the ground running and immediately accept insurance. "I’m actually very excited about this because it means those acupuncturists can provide a level of care to a much larger population of people."
Learn more about the Acupuncture programs at MCPHS-Worcester.