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State Is Not Ready To Cover Acupuncture For Medicaid Patients

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Jacky Sawyer receives an acupuncture treatment from Brett Avelin at Sojourns Community Clinic in Westminster

The chief medical officer of Vermont Medicaid says more research is needed before the state would be able to cover acupuncture in the insurance program for low-income Vermonters.Vermont Medicaid released a report last year that found that: Medicaid patients might be interested in choose acupuncture if it were covered and that they'd likely benefit from the treatment for controlling pain.

Last week, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee looked at the report and considered written testimony from Vermont Medicaid Chief Medical Officer Scott Strenio.

While the patients in the study reported improvement, Strenio said the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture couldn't be verified.

"We just don't have the data to demonstrate that using acupuncture reduced the need for patients to seek other treatment or to continue the treatment that they were using before," Strenio said in an interview with VPR.

Strenio says more studies should be done. Acupuncture could be a part of a "benefit," Strenio said, that includes other pain management options such as yoga, massage, and a nutritional program.

"This would in essence be a single, well-defined benefit with maximum flexibility to accommodate the myriad of effective treatment options that produce one overall plan of care and active coordination of care by all providers," Strenio wrote in his testimony.

Vermont Medicaid paid for the study, which offered acupuncture treatment to 156 Medicaid patients with chronic pain.

The study did not compare acupuncture to opioid treatments, but some of the participants said they used fewer painkillers while receiving acupuncture.

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