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MN acupuncture insurance now covers treatment by licensed nonphysicians, but acupuncture’s efficacy appears limited

If you want acupuncture treatment in Minnesota, you no longer have to go to one of the dozen or so physicians or chiropractors in the state who are board-certified in medical acupuncture.

According to a Minnesota law that went into effect on Saturday (Aug. 1), if your health insurance already covers acupuncture treatments provided (or supervised) by physicians, it must also cover treatments provided by licensed nonphysician acupuncturists.

The law, which was sponsored by Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Mpls, and Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Mpls, does not, however, require health plans to start covering acupuncture treatments if they don’t do so already.

A press release issued by the Minnesota House states the reasoning behind the new law: “Advocates said that a growing body of scientific evidence supports the benefits of acupuncture for a variety of conditions.”

Is that statement accurate? Does “a growing body of scientific evidence” show acupuncture to be an effective medical treatment?

Insufficient proof
Not according to a cascade of Cochrane Review meta-analyses, which many scientists consider the “gold standard” method of evaluating the effectiveness of various medical treatments.

The general theme of these reviews: Acupuncture studies to date tend to be small and poorly designed, factors that make their conclusions unreliable. Specifically, the reviewers found insufficient evidence that acupuncture has any effect on such varied medical conditions as stroke, depression, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis.

The only good evidence for acupuncture’s effectiveness, according to the Cochrane reviewers, is for the relief of tension-type headaches. They also found some tentative evidence that acupuncture might be able to provide short-term relief from elbow and shoulder pain. For elbow pain, the relief was quite short: less than 24 hours. For shoulder pain, the relief was a bit longer: two to four weeks.

All the reviews call for more rigorous studies.

Placebo effect?
Some research suggests that the placebo effect may explain findings that have shown acupuncture to be effective. As the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes on its website:

There is evidence that people’s attitudes about acupuncture can affect outcomes. In a 2007 study, researchers analyzed data from four clinical trials of acupuncture for various types of chronic pain. Participants had been asked whether they expected acupuncture to help their pain. In all four trials, those with positive expectations reported significantly greater pain relief.

Of course, acupuncture treatments may be no less effective (and a lot less expensive) than many conventional treatments, particularly for ailments like low back pain, which is why, as I reported a few weeks ago, acupuncture is now among the first line of treatments for back pain in Great Britain.

Still, as with all medical treatments, caveat emptor.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by ken lusk on 08/15/2009 - 03:11 pm.

    I’ve had acupuncture, several hundred times and it is effective for certain ailments. For instance, I had phlegm for 40 years of my life. Acupuncture eliminated that condition. I’ll explain in terms of oriental medicine. The Chi center, just below the navel, is where the energy of the body is located to be distributed. Mine was out of balance, with what is referred to as rising Chi, body heat rising through my body, which is 70% water. When heat rises through moisture, clouds, phlegm forms. Bringing the body heat from rising is the treatment to cure excessive phlegm which is just a symptom. I’ve had a tooth ache stopped, temporarily, and successfully used acupuncture instead of an antibiotic.A Chinese, Japanese or someone trained by such acupuncturists is most recommended.

  2. Submitted by Kimberly Fritz, M.Om., L.Ac. on 08/28/2009 - 03:25 pm.

    I’m greatly disappointed in your lack of research prior to displaying this article. I would suggest several things: research the determinations on acupuncture provided by the WHO, NIH,and even the AMA. Look to the wealth of research that China has been doing. Contact our own local Northwestern Health Sciences University which is a leader in myriad of research, and also can point you in the direction of the findings that support the wide wealth of uses for acupuncture therapy. Contact Health Partners and ask them why, and what data they used to determine to not only cover acupuncture for a host of conditions, but to be the pioneer in having ‘in network’ acupuncturists. Contact our own U.S. Army and find out why they are training their field medics in acupuncture.
    Furthermore, did you contact an acupuncturist, or have you ever had acupuncture? There are reasons why Chinese medicine, which is the umbrella under which acupuncture falls, has been utilized as a complete medical system for thousands of years…not because people had a placebo effect and just ‘believed’ it worked, but because it does work. Decades ago China tried to outlaw Chinese medicine…and had to bring it back. Do you know why??? Because they found out that like anything, Western medicine had it’s limitations and was lacking is many areas. Did you know that it was partially Chinese Herbal Medicine that enabled China to get through the Avian Flu? I’ll bet you did not, and I’ll bet you did not care. I think that you did not care because of your repeated use of the term ‘nonphysician’. Though journalists are supposed to be objective, that particular term seems to have undertones to it. You could have just said, Licensed Acupuncturists. You threw that extra word in there to produce a negative connotation for those in the general public who are still of the mindset that medical doctors are all knowing and near god-like. Your point was that we were not ‘equals’ to the practicing M.D.
    This is ok. We, as a profession, understand that some of the American public needs time to adjust to different ways. We understand that public education is paramount. Chinese medicine has been around a long time, we will still be here when you are ready to open your eyes.

    Sincerely,
    Kimberly Fritz, M.Om., L.Ac.
    President, Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Association of Minnesota

    Owner/practitioner
    Green Dragon Acupuncture, Inc.
    Blaine, MN.

  3. Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/04/2014 - 06:20 am.

    Acupuncture at the Chiropractor’s

    Seems reasonable.

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