Back to Articles

Does Medicare Cover Acupuncture and Chiropractic Care?

Senior woman undergoes acupuncture session.As we approach retirement age, understanding Medicare becomes increasingly important. Though Medicare provides comprehensive coverage for many medical services, there are often questions regarding coverage for alternative therapies, such as chiropractic care and acupuncture. This article looks at the basics of Medicare coverage with a focus on chiropractic care and acupuncture.

Understanding Medicare

Medicare is a federal health insurance program primarily for people aged 65 and older. However, younger persons with certain disabilities may also be eligible. Medicare consists of different parts, each covering specific services:

  • Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance): Covers inpatient hospital stays, skilled nursing facility care, hospice care, and some home health care.
  • Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance): Covers certain doctor’s services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services. (Together, Parts A and B are often called Original Medicare.)
  • Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage): Offered by private companies approved by Medicare. It combines Part A and Part B coverage and may include additional benefits, such as prescription drug coverage.
  • Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage): Helps cover the cost of prescription drugs.

Medicare does not typically cover alternative medicine or visits to naturopathic doctors. However, some types of chiropractic treatment and acupuncture will qualify for coverage. Continue reading to learn more about the specifics.

Does Medicare Cover Chiropractic Care?

Chiropractic care focuses on diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal disorders, primarily through manual adjustments or manipulation of the spine. Though many people find relief from conditions such as back pain, neck pain, and headaches through chiropractic treatment, Medicare coverage for these services is somewhat limited.

Medicare Part B does cover chiropractic services, but only under specific circumstances. To be eligible for coverage through Part B, services must meet the following criteria:

  • Medical Necessity: The chiropractic services must be deemed medically necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of a subluxation by a qualified chiropractor. (A subluxation is a misalignment of the spine causing nerve interference.)
  • Qualified Provider: The services must be provided by a chiropractor who is enrolled in Medicare and meets certain criteria. Chiropractors must have a license or certification from the state in which they practice. They also must meet Medicare’s requirements for reimbursement.
  • Documentation: Detailed documentation of the diagnosis, treatment plan, and outcomes must be maintained by the chiropractor and made available upon request by Medicare.
  • Cost Sharing: Medicare recipients are responsible for paying the Medicare Part B deductible and coinsurance for chiropractic services.

Though Medicare covers spinal manipulation for the treatment of subluxation, it does not cover other chiropractic services, such as massage therapy, X-rays, or nutritional counseling.

Does Medicare Cover Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine. The practice involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to promote healing and relieve pain. In recent years, acupuncture has gained recognition in Western medicine. It now often serves as a complementary therapy for various conditions, including chronic pain, nausea, and migraines.

Acupuncture treatment for chronic low back pain is covered by Medicare under certain conditions. The enrollee must have Medicare Part B, and the treatment is subject to specific guidelines:

  • Diagnosis: A qualified provider must perform the acupuncture for chronic low back pain. The treatment of this chronic low back pain also must:
    • last at least 12 weeks,
    • be nonspecific in nature, and
    • not be associated with surgery or pregnancy.
  • Qualified Providers: A qualified acupuncturist must provide the services. The practitioner must meet Medicare’s requirements for reimbursement as well.
  • Documentation: The acupuncture practitioner must maintain detailed documentation of the diagnosis, treatment plan, and outcomes. They also must make these records available upon request by Medicare.
  • Cost Sharing: Beneficiaries are responsible for paying the Medicare Part B deductible and coinsurance for acupuncture services.

According to Medicare.gov, Medicare Part B will cover up to 12 acupuncture appointments in 90 days. However, take note that Medicare does not currently cover acupuncture for any conditions other than chronic low back pain.

Additionally, coverage for acupuncture may vary depending on the beneficiary’s specific Medicare benefits, so it’s essential to review plan details for information on coverage and cost-sharing requirements.

Seek Expert Advice on Medicare

Navigating Medicare can be confusing under normal circumstances. It can become more complicated when it comes to coverage for alternative therapies, such as chiropractic care and acupuncture. Though Medicare does provide some coverage for these services, eligibility criteria and coverage limitations apply.

Medicare policies and coverage criteria may change over time. Stay informed about updates and consult with health care providers and Medicare representatives. They can provide the most current information regarding coverage for chiropractic care, acupuncture, and other health care services.

Contact an experienced elder law attorney near you today to talk further about Medicare. They can walk you through the benefits that may be available to you and help you understand how you can qualify for coverage.

To learn more about Medicare, check out the following articles: