In the enduring fight to reduce the severity of opioid addiction, traditional and holistic approaches continue to overlap and present alternative methods for treating chronic ailments and improving mental health. One significant treatment that is a proven opioid alternative is acupuncture.
Acupuncture has its origins in traditional Chinese medicine and recent studies over the last few decades prove time and again its effectiveness in treating a variety of chronic pain conditions and more. In particular, acupuncture research has investigated its benefits for veterans—and the federal department of Veterans Affairs recently included acupuncture in its efforts to promote complementary and integrative health.
How did the VA come to this conclusion? And what does this relationship mean for your acupuncture practice and the veterans in your community? Keep reading to learn more about the history of acupuncture and the VA, plus some tips for billing the VA for acupuncture services provided to veterans.
Acupuncture & The VA: A Timeline
Let’s look at a brief timeline of acupuncture and the VA:
- 1998: The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is established with the goal of rigorously testing the effectiveness of “alternative” medicines that existed outside the scope of traditional medicine
- 2005: The Institute of Medicine (IOM)—now known as the National Academy of Medicine (NAM)—reports on the relationship between “alternative” medicines and Americans partaking in them for their overall wellness; this report encourages educational curriculum regarding “alternative” medicines be included in the medical field so traditional physicians can help their patients navigate these treatments
- 2014: Congress changes NCCAM’s name to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), indicating a change in attitude towards “alternative” medicines as a more serious and important approach to health and wellness
- 2015: A report conducted by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Healthcare Analysis and Information Group recognizes acupuncture as one of the most common complementary treatments, further validating acupuncture’s role in treating a variety of ailments
- 2017: VA Directive 1137 – Provision of Complementary and Integrative Health is approved, which establishes national VHA policy regarding the provision of CIH approaches; this includes acupuncture as a vetted and recognized complementary treatment for veterans
Evidence of Acupuncture’s Benefits for Veterans
The VA found that acupuncture provides numerous benefits to common ailments and conditions that veterans must live with, including:
- Lower Back Pain: A 2012 analysis of data on participants in acupuncture studies found that actual acupuncture was more helpful than either no acupuncture or placebo acupuncture
- Mobility: A 2008 study found that there was a significant improvement in mobility for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee when acupuncture treatments were included in their wellness plan
- PTSD: According to research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), acupuncture can affect the autonomic nervous system, and the prefrontal as well as limbic brain structures, making it able to relieve the symptoms of PTSD
5 Steps for Billing VA for Acupuncture Treatments
The medical billing process for the Veterans Affairs department requires a few steps to accurately bill them and develop a relationship with them along the way; start with these foundational steps:
Acquire Your National Provider Identifier (NPI)
The first step to billing the VA for acupuncture is to acquire a National Provider Identifier (NPI). A National Provider Identifier, or NPI, is a 10-digit identification number issued to healthcare providers in the U.S. by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Your acupuncture practice will need to apply for an NPI if you are a HIPAA-covered health care provider or if you bill insurance for your services.
Establish Your Community Care Network Region
The VA Community Care Network (CCN) is divided into six regions that cover the continental United States in addition to Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands. TriWest manages the western networks while Optum handles the eastern regions. Find out which region your acupuncture practice resides in.
Get Credentialed in Your CCN Region
In order to provide great care for veterans at your holistic practice with acupuncture services, you’ll need to be credentialed with the region’s third-party administrator. This process typically takes at least three months to complete. Depending on your region, contact the following to get started with the credentialing process:
- Region 1: 888-901-7407 (Optum)
- Region 2: 844-839-6108 (Optum)
- Region 3: 888-901-6613 (Optum)
- Region 4: 866-286-4174 (Triwest)
- Region 5: 877-226-8749 (Triwest)
The VA has not officially contracted with an agency for Region 6; contact information is pending for that region.
Fill Out Registration Paperwork
Upon completing the credentialing process with your region’s third-party administrator, you’ll need to submit the necessary paperwork to become fully registered with the VA’s Community Care Network. This paperwork is submitted electronically and will include details regarding any final requirements that must be met in order to finish the credentialing process for your acupuncture practice.
Begin to Receive Patient Authorizations
Once your holistic practice has been verified and authorized by the VA’s network, you’ll start to receive referrals to treat veterans who are approved to start acupuncture treatments. Your CCN administrator will provide the patient’s authorization letters before the patient’s first visit to your acupuncture practice.
After completing these important foundational steps, you’re ready to start billing the VA and treating veterans in your community!
When submitting an insurance claim to the VA for the first time, you’ll need to submit all the authorization letter pages together with the claim. Make sure you transmit all the following information with your acupuncture services claim to avoid a denial:
- A cover letter
- The date range for services
- Authorization numbers
- The total number of visits authorized
- The patient’s demographics including address, date of birth, and social security number
- Documentation and CPT codes of treatments administered
By following this checklist, you can ensure your Veterans Administration insurance claim will have all the accurate information it needs for a smooth billing process.
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