A collaborative effort between the OCOM Research Department and the Oregon Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (OAAOM) is resulting in a steady expansion of coverage for acupuncture under the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), which provides health care coverage to low-income Oregonians. Each month, more than 600,000 people receive health care coverage through the OHP.
Under the OHP, individual condition/treatment pairs are rank-ordered and assigned a place on an official prioritized list according to their impact on health, the clinical effectiveness of available treatments, and cost-effectiveness. Beginning in 2009, the OCOM Research Department and the OAAOM began locating, assessing and submitting high-quality research demonstrating acupuncture's effectiveness for a variety of conditions to the Oregon Health Evidence Review Commission (HERC). Shelley Stump (OCOM's Planning, Operations, and Assessment Officer), Laura Ocker (President Emeritus of the OAAOM), Ryan Milley (OCOM Adjunct Research Faculty) and Ben Marx (OCOM Research Associate) worked closely with successive groups of OCOM master's students to identify research evidence for submission. Ocker, Milley and Marx also appeared before the HERC to provide expert testimony regarding the research, and answer the commission's questions as they arise during debate.
Since the start of this collaborative effort in 2009, acupuncture has been paired with eight conditions on the OHP prioritized list: pregnancy-related hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme, persistent nausea and vomiting) , breech presentation, back and pelvic pain of pregnancy, post-stroke depression, disorders of the spine with neurologic impairment, chronic low back pain, migraine headaches, and tension-type headaches. Two additional conditions, chronic neck pain and osteoarthritis of the knee — both for up to 12 acupuncture sessions — have been approved by the HERC in 2013.
Seven of these conditions currently reside above the funding line on the prioritized list, while three conditions — chronic neck pain, chronic low back pain, and tension headaches — are all "below the line" conditions, meaning they are not currently reimbursed. Though not reimbursed, having such recognition of the evidence for acupuncture to address these conditions serves as a model for other state plans, and is a formal acknowledgement by the Oregon Health Authority of acupuncture's effectiveness.
This ongoing work shows the valuable role research can play at the public policy level in validating acupuncture's clinical effectiveness, expanding access to low-income citizens, and supporting the expansion of the acupuncture profession.
— Ben Marx, OCOM Research Associate