Healthcare providers, policy makers, patients, insurers, and other stakeholders are making progress in ensuring better access to integrative pain management therapies such as yoga, acupuncture, and massage.

Reality Check

The current opioid crisis is a national public health challenge, but it's also viewed by those in the integrative pain management field as an opportunity to address another important issue.

"Those patients have inadequate access to proper resources for pain management. We can't just throw opioids at the problem; we have to acknowledge that many patients require multimodel treatment to achieve best symptomatic reduction and functional improvement," he added.

The meeting included representatives from 53 professional organizations, four patient advocacy groups, and two research consortia, as well as many from state legislatures and private and public insurers, said Jackson. "The healthcare of over 100 million Americans patients was represented by the decision makers in the room," he said.

During the congress, representatives from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, veterans' groups, and other national agencies discussed federal efforts to support comprehensive integrative pain management. There were presentations from Medicaid, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the National Governors Association, and Indian Health Services.

"Fortunately, we had a number of payer partners at the Congress. They're willing to cover services, provided there is an evidence base that these services do help and provided there are outcomes data measures they can use to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges," said Jackson.

Evidence supporting integrative pain management approaches doesn't always meet the gold standard the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) typically requires to approve drugs. The Congress is making headway in arriving at a consensus on the level of evidence needed for insurance coverage for these nontraditional approaches.

New Payment Models

At the congress, discussions have explored payment models that take into account the intersection between pain management, addiction, and behavioral health. In addition to discussing new models of payment, meeting delegates are exploring ways that groups can collaborate to offer better care, especially for patients with chronic pain, said Jackson.

Jackson described the extent of current insurance coverage for integrative pain management therapies as "poor." Many pain patients can't afford the very treatments that might provide the most benefit.

Having all the stakeholders together in the same room "talking about solutions-oriented processes rather than challenge-based processes" makes it all the more possible to find "common ground," said Jackson. "Everybody is under the same tent; everybody is working together and pulling in the same direction for what's best for patients," he said.