By Bruce Kennedy Posted 7:00AM 04/02/11
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A year after President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, many Americans are still struggling to get their insurance to cover basic medical treatments. A new report by Deloitte and Oxford Economics finds that consumers spent $363 billion dollars more for health-care goods and services in 2009 than official government statistics acknowledged — a discrepancy of nearly 15%.

These out-of-pocket medical costs include “purchases that are outside of conventional therapies and treatments,” as well as other products and services not covered by insurance programs and care for others. The finding joins a growing body of evidence that more Americans are exploring often less expensive alternatives to traditional Western medicine.

A 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which polled Americans about their use of so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), estimated that 3.1 million U.S. adults and 150,000 children had used acupuncture during the previous year. And in the five years leading up to the survey, the use of acupuncture — the traditional Asian medical technique that involves the insertion of thin needles at skin-level, into key areas of the body — had increased among U.S. adults by 0.3%, or about 1 million people.

Getting Coverage for Acupuncture

Acupuncture, once considered exotic in the U.S., has been around long enough to become federally regulated. Practitioners must use needles produced and manufactured according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards, which require needles to “be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.”

Acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat a wide variety of ailments, including chronic pain, depression, menstrual irregularities, infertility and weight loss. Individual treatments at licensed acupuncturists can cost anywhere from $25 to $65 dollars or more per session.

While most employer-sponsored health plans cover may cover physicals, prescription drugs and mental health, only about half — according to a 2004 Kaiser Family Foundation survey — cover acupuncture, chiropractic care and other CAM treatments.

But insurance companies’ reluctance to cover licensed acupuncture treatments may be changing. For the ninth straight year, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) is introducing legislation that would add acupuncture to the list of services covered by Medicare and Federal Employees Health Benefits Program participants.

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