In the midst of a spate of laws restricting access to care and medication for chronic pain patients, several states are quietly trying to ensure that patients can access alternative or complementary treatment options.

“We know that many people with debilitating conditions are increasingly turning to alternative approaches, but the professionals licensed to practice in these areas are poorly reimbursed, if at all,” says Shaina Smith, Director of State Advocacy and Alliance Development. “Bills introduced this session relating to such alternative treatments are beginning to change this.”

According to Smith, the Vermont legislature took a leap this session through S 1, which created a copayment limit for chiropractic and physical therapy, though for the 2019 plan year only. “This bill is a great first step in seeing how such treatments can manage diseases and how many children and adults are interested in receiving such care,” Smith notes.

The bill also creates a working group to develop recommendations related to insurance coverage for non-opioid approaches to treating and managing pain, including nonpharmacological approaches.

U.S. Pain Foundation and the Academy of Integrative Pain Management recently submitted a joint letter to Delaware Governor John Carney, urging he sign SB 225 and provide coverage for chiropractic care for individuals with back pain. The two organizations asked that Delaware consider amending the language to ensure qualified chronic pain patients are included.

In Georgia, lawmakers introduced legislation that urges health plans to cover fewer opioids and more alternative treatments (HR 1592), while Massachusetts has a bill in play that would provide coverage for acupuncture and Eastern medicine-based pain management, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse treatment, and nausea (HB 566). Missouri’s HB 1516 specifically requests that chiropractic care be reimbursed for conditions currently reimbursed under MO HealthNet, the state’s Medicaid program.

Other states established working groups to recommend appropriate oversight and regulations of naturopathic medicine, such as H 277, which was recently signed by the governor of North Carolina. Physical therapy and occupational therapy professionals were represented in New York’s SB 5764, while in Rhode Island, H 7499 supports coverage for physical therapy, occupational therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, and Eastern-based medicine. (The state has held the legislation for further study.) Ohio, a state still in session, is proposing that prescribers be required to inform patients about non-opioid therapies and that health insurers be required to cover non-opioid therapies for treating pain. The state’s SB 310 would provide coverage for chiropractors, Eastern medicine practitioners, and osteopathic physicians.

“It was uplifting to read the bills that recognized the importance of providing alternative options to manage a variety of conditions,” Smith concludes. “We hope states will follow Vermont’s example.”

To stay up to date on pain-related bills at the state level, sign up as a U.S. Pain advocate.