Obamacare to cover acupuncture, alternative medicine

Published: Dec. 30, 2012 at 6:39 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2012 at 6:44 PM EST
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Source: health.howstuffworks.com
Source: health.howstuffworks.com

(RNN) - Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as "Obamacare," what is now called alternative medicine may become as accessible and as widely accepted as conventional medicine.

The controversial act specifically mentions complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and integrative healthcare in seven different sections throughout the law. This is thanks in part to the efforts of the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), a coalition of major organizations started at the request of legislators in Washington devoted to the promotion of CAM and integrative healthcare in the U.S.

There have been debates about the efficacy of some of these practices, which include acupuncture, and it has been a long road for proponents of these treatments to get them recognized in the ACA.

"Everybody has been holding their breath. So the implementation phase of the ACA has only just started becoming formulated now that we know that it's actually going to be here," said Dr. Len Wisneski, clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University Medical Center and chairman of the Board of Directors of IHPC.

"We just had a board retreat in Alexandria [VA] in mid-November, working on formulating a go-forward plan. So I'd indicate that virtually every aspect of the ACA is just getting into the implementation phase now."

Within the seven sections that specifically mention CAM and integrative healthcare, two sections are essential.

The first, a "non-discrimination in healthcare" section, prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against healthcare providers in regard to their participation and coverage in health plans. It was created to encourage full utilization of healthcare providers and reduce the cost of patient care.

According to Wisneski, the non-discrimination section specifically includes providers of integrative healthcare and they are also to be included within the health plan coverage. However, there is concern that this section could lose ground during the implementation process of the ACA.

"This is something that is being taken up on a state-to-state basis. We are focusing on this area very carefully and have formed a committee that is functioning of both our members and various experts, to ensure that this part of the law is implemented," Wisneski said. "This, we consider to be the most important passed."

The second most notable section focuses on establishing community health teams to support patient-centered medical homes. Included within those teams are doctors of chiropractic, licensed complementary and alternative medicine practitioners.

"This is the first time, really, in history that this type of language has been articulated in the law. Very few people are aware of what's in the law in this regard," Wisneski said.

The new law will mean that all Americans, even those who do not now have coverage, will have access to safe, high-quality, integrated healthcare.

"To see things finally coming to fruition is very exciting," Wisneski said.

A 2011 Consumer Reports survey found that more than 38 million Americans make an excess of 300 million visits each year to CAM specialists, including acupuncture, massage therapists and chiropractors.

Obamacare was enacted over strong objection in 2010 with the stated goal of providing all Americans access to quality, affordable health insurance. Whether it would be completely enacted or repealed, along with the future of the CAM and integrative medicine industry, was dependent upon the 2012 presidential election.

With President Barack Obama's re-election and the assurance of the ACA beginning in 2014, it is the first time in U.S. history that CAM and integrative medicine practitioners have been included in a national healthcare law and is acting as a fundamental step for the industry.

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