CFI to HHS: Don’t Force Insurers to Pay for Acupuncture

April 5, 2012

The following is a news update from the Center for Inquiry's Office of Public Policy:

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) today wrote to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking her to reject lobbying efforts to require health insurance providers and organizations to cover acupuncture, and instead base the government’s rules for health care coverage on science and reason.

As you might have already heard, the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM) and other alternative medicine interest groups are attempting to persuade HHS to categorize acupuncture as an Essential Health Benefit (EHB) under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This designation would require health insurance providers and organizations providing health care plans to cover the practice without a co-pay, deductible, or additional insurance.

According to the Institute of Medicine, for a service to be eligible as an EHB, it must: (1) be safe, (2) be medically effective, (3) demonstrate meaningful improvement, (4) be a medical service, and (5) be cost effective.

As we write in our letter, acupuncture meets none of these five criteria.

Proponents of acupuncture repeatedly claim that acupuncture is a safe, efficacious, and cost effective complement to conventional medicine. However, such claims are unjustified, and rely on dubious and discredited research. In fact, an increasingly robust body of empirical evidence has shown that acupuncture is unproven, unscientific, and has no clinical value beyond a placebo effect. Medical interventions that perform no better than placebos should not be covered by the government. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve drugs as “safe and effective” when they perform no better than placebos. Similarly, HHS should not classify a procedure as an EHB when it provides no benefits beyond what could be expected from a placebo.

The adoption of acupuncture as an EHB would add significant costs to the United States' already overburdened health care system, and lower standards of medical training and treatment. It would also lend dangerous and undue authority to pseudoscience, ultimately degrading respect for science in the public realm.

We will let you know if and when we hear anything.