Does Medicare cover alternative medicine?

Many people seek treatment methods outside of a traditional doctor’s office or hospital which leads to the question: does Medicare cover alternative medicine? Two of the most common types of alternative medicine covered by Medicare are acupuncture and chiropractic care. Learn more about when Medicare will cover alternative medicine treatments.

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D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook, Catch & Release, won the 2012 Robin Becker Prize from Seve...

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years

UPDATED: Jan 26, 2021

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The Highlights

  • Medicare covers some alternative medicine options.
  • It depends on the type of treatment and past results.
  • There are options if Medicare won’t cover your alternative medicine choice.

Alternative medicine provides a medical treatment option for those that wish to avoid traditional medicine. This umbrella term covers a wide variety of treatments that are considered non-traditional.

Does Medicare cover alternative medicine? The answer to that question depends on the type of treatment offered, who performed the treatment, and the plan you acquire. It can impact if you should have to pay for Medicare when you turn 65 or buy other health insurance.

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What is alternative medicine?

Commonly referred to as holistic medicine, alternative medicine is an umbrella term that covers any non-traditional medical treatment. This includes any medical practices or theories that fall outside generally-accepted treatments.

The term holistic medicine is commonly used because alternative medicine is focused on the entire body. This includes the body, mind, and spirit. Sometimes, alternative medicine will be used in conjunction with traditional medicine, a practice known as complementary medicine.

Some common types of alternative medicine include dietary supplements, yoga, massage therapy, and acupuncture. But does Medicare cover alternative medicine? The answer depends on multiple factors of your treatment.

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Does Medicare cover alternative medicine?

Many types of alternative medicine are considered experimental. Medical experts consider them ineffective or dangerous. These types of alternative medicine will not be covered by Medicare and possibly not by any other coverage.

However, if you would rather drop an employer’s health insurance and go on Medicare, there are some types of alternative medicine that can be covered. This is usually physical treatment, such as acupuncture.

These types of treatments are generally considered safe and helpful if performed by a trained medical professional.

Three of the most commonly-sought physical treatments are massage therapy, chiropractic treatment, and physical therapy. Massage therapy is currently not covered through Medicare but chiropractic treatment and physical therapy are covered by Plan B.

What alternative medicine is covered by Medicare?

The most common type of alternative medicine covered by Medicare is acupuncture. This traditional Chinese medicine activates nerves, muscles, and tissue. Medicare Part B will cover acupuncture for 12 appointments in 90 days if the patient suffers from chronic lower back pain.

Medicare will typically also cover necessary chiropractic services, pain management therapies, some dietary and nutritional therapies, and behavior therapies or mental health treatment.

In order for Medicare to cover these options, they must be recommended and performed by a doctor or qualified health care worker.

What options are there if your alternative medicine is not covered by Medicare?

If the type of alternative medicine you desire is not covered by Medicare, there are some options. The Medicare Advantage plan uses a third-party insurer. That insurer might cover more alternative medicine options than Medicare Plan B. However, it depends on the specific insurer and plan.

Another option is to document your sessions and appeal Medicare’s decision. In this case, you’ll be asking for the reimbursement of your treatment. A referral from a doctor for the treatment will help your appeal but does not guarantee reimbursement.

If Medicare does not cover your alternative medicine, you might consider choosing an affordable alternative medicine health insurance provider. While not every private health insurance company covers alternative medicine, you might have a better chance than with Medicare.

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Medicare Part D and holistic treatments

Does Medicare cover alternative medicine if you have a prescription? Medicare Part D does provide financial support for prescription medications. This form of Medicare might assist in holistic treatments but they must satisfy certain requirements.

  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
  • Available only by prescription.
  • Used for a medically-approved purpose.
  • Sold and used in the United States.
  • Not already covered by Part A or Part B.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are all alternative medicines considered experimental?

While there are some alternative treatments that are considered experimental, others have scientific backing. These are generally the ones you’ll find covered by Medicare.

2. Is it more or less likely alternative medicine will be covered?

In most cases, Medicare will not cover alternative medicine. However, each situation is different so you should check your specific plan or coverage.

3. How much does acupuncture cost?

Acupuncture is a commonly-used method of alternative medicine. Without Medicare, the initial appointment is around $100, with subsequent appoints being between $50 and $75. Check your coverage to see how much of your visits Medicare will pay.

Does Medicare cover alternative medicine? The Bottom Line

The answer to does Medicare cover alternative medicine largely depends on the type of treatment. While most alternative treatments won’t be covered, some will. Checking your coverage or contacting Medicare will help you determine if your treatment is covered.

Enter your ZIP code to find the best alternative medicine health insurance rates.

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