Do State Insurances Cover Tai Chi for Low Back Pain?
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August 26, 2019 - In 2017, the American College of Physicians (ACP) released guidelines encouraging nonpharmacologic treatment of chronic low back pain (LBP). These guidelines recommended utilization of treatments including multidisciplinary rehabilitation, acupuncture, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), Tai Chi, yoga, progressive relaxation, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and spinal manipulation.
Researchers from Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in California, Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University and University of California San Diego worked together to determine status of insurance coverage status for multiple nonpharmacological pain therapies based on the 2017 Essential Health Benefits (EHB) benchmark plans across all states. The 2017 EHB benchmark plans represent the minimum benefits required in all new policies in the individual and small group health insurance markets and were reviewed for coverage of treatments for LBP recommended by the ACP guidelines. Additionally, plans were reviewed for limitations and exclusionary criteria.
In nearly all state-based coverage policies, chronic pain management and multidisciplinary rehabilitation were not addressed. Coverage was most extensive (supported by 46 states) for spinal manipulation. Acupuncture, massage, and biofeedback were each covered by fewer than 10 states, while MBSR, Tai Chi, and yoga were not covered by any states. Behavioral health treatment (CBT and biofeedback) coverage was often covered solely for mental health diagnoses, although excluded for treating LBP.
Other than spinal manipulation, evidence-based, nonpharmacological therapies recommended by the 2017 ACP guidelines were routinely excluded from EHB benchmark plans. Insurance coverage discourages multidisciplinary rehabilitation for chronic pain management by providing ambiguous guidelines, restricting ongoing treatments, and excluding behavioral or complementary therapy despite a cohesive evidence base. Better EHB plan coverage of nondrug therapies may be a strategy to mitigate the opioid crisis. Recommendations that reflect current research-based findings are provided to update chronic pain policy statements. This study was published by Global advances in health and medicine in July 2019.