The Benefits of Acupuncture for Older Adults

  • Written by By Catherine Field Market President, Intermountain Region - Humana

As more Americans learn about the health benefits of acupuncture, many are choosing to incorporate this gentle form of alternative medicine into their lives. For those who have tried it, acupuncture may offer effective relief from some of our most common ailments, including chronic pain.

Acupuncture is particularly well-suited to older adults. As bodies age, aches and pain become more common, as do other health concerns related to energy, mood and digestion. The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture may provide an important source of treatment for many of these ailments.

Whether you’re already using acupuncture or considering it for the first time, it would be wise to look at your health insurance plan to see if it includes acupuncture as a covered benefit.
You may be surprised to discover that Medicare still lags in this area, especially if you’re used to getting acupuncture coverage through an employer-sponsored health plan. Traditional Medicare, which covers most Americans who are  enrolled in Medicare, does not include any coverage for acupuncture. By contrast, some Medicare Advantage plans do provide coverage for acupuncture, although it is still a small proportion of those plans.

From Humana’s perspective as a health and well-being company that aims to help people achieve lifelong well-being, acupuncture is an important treatment option and one that we are proud to offer on all Humana Medicare Advantage HMO plans in Washington state.

There are several reasons we think acupuncture should be an affordable option for people with Medicare.

One of the most important reasons is that acupuncture may offer a safe and effective alternative to prescription medication for certain conditions. Many adults age 65 and older take a large number of medications, which increases their risk of adverse health events. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every year 177,000 adults aged 65 and older visit emergency departments due to medication problems. Acupuncture may be able to help older adults reduce their use of medications and thereby reduce the risks associated with medication’s side effects.

Acupuncture is particularly effective in treating a variety of pain conditions that become more prevalent with age, including arthritis, chronic neck and back pain, muscle pain and headache. In a 2010 survey of 600 rheumatologists, over half said they found acupuncture to be a beneficial treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

Acupuncture may also help treat mental and emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, which can go along with aches and pains and other changes related to aging.

If you’re considering trying acupuncture yourself, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first to see if it might be right for you.

Be sure to also take a look at your health plan benefits. If you don’t see coverage for acupuncture included in your Medicare plan’s benefits, you might want to consider looking for a plan that does include an acupuncture benefit when you are next able to enroll. It could end up making a big difference to your health, well-being and quality of life.

Catherine Field is Humana’s President for Senior Products in the Intermountain Region, which includes Washington state.

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