Doc calls for payers to reimburse for alternative pain management therapies


It’s all fine and well for the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., to send a letter to every doctor in the county telling them to change the way they’re prescribing opioid-based medications for pain relief. But if insurance companies aren’t covering biofeedback, mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive behavioral therapy--all of which have been proven to reduce pain--Murthy’s missive may well land like a lead balloon, says one pain specialist.

It puts both doctors and patients in a bind when the nation's top doctor is trying to encourage physicians to prescribe fewer pain medications--absent a groundswell of support from insurance companies, points out Robert Bonakdar, M.D., director of pain management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, in his commentary for USA Today. More than 100 million Americans are suffering from chronic pain, says Bonakdar. And it's patients who are hurt most by the denial of treatments that can help treat their pain.

While payers have been slow to embrace the reimbursement of non-opioid-based pain relief, Bonakdar cites examples of successful state-based approaches to fixing this problem. One example can be found in Rhode Island’s Ease the Pain Program that embraces a case management approach with treatments including massage and acupuncture. Also in the works is a program run by Oregon’s state insurance program that will cover cognitive behavioral therapy and acupuncture.

Murthy encourages doctors, nurse practitioners and dentists--both of whom also received the letter--to take a pledge to stop the opioid crisis in its tracks. Some physicians have been critical of the Surgeon General’s approach and rallied instead for the country to invest in effective treatment and research prevention, as previously reported by FiercePracticeManagement.