Acupuncture as Affordable Health Care

As health care costs continue to rise, more and more people are looking for ways to prevent major illness and take more control over their own well-being. Treatment with acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can be used to treat pain, digestive problems, menstrual problems, headaches, emotional issues, insomnia, menopausal symptoms and more. Such treatment can also complement traditional therapies and help manage more serious concerns such a diabetes, hypertension and cancer. However, even acupuncture has been too expensive for many of us, since it is only sometimes covered by health insurance. Community Clinics have provided one answer to this and are beginning to provide many people with affordable health maintenance options.

Many people are aware that acupuncture is part of a system of medicine developed in China over the past 3000 years. However, it isn’t as commonly recognized that during the early 19th century (after missionaries had introduced Western medical concepts to the Chinese) acupuncture fell from favor in China and was actually banned from official Chinese medical schools. Acupuncture theory and practice had evolved through the millennia through observation and experience, and the language it used was rich with metaphor and the influence of “ghosts.” With the emphasis on scientific method adopted during the Qing dynasty, China’s authorities were loathe to be perceived by the outside world as backwards or superstitious. It was declared that acupuncture was “not suitable to be applied to the Emperor.”

The study of acupuncture continued, but remained underground until the communist party took control of China in the 1940s. Realizing that acupuncture provided a low cost option for providing medical care to many people , especially those living in the country with little to no access to Western care, the authorities sought to standardize and systematize the principles and practices of acupuncturists. While the essential metaphorical language was retained, all reference to ghosts and most of the more spiritual aspects of various traditions were dropped. Lay persons were trained with basic acupuncture skills and were sent into rural areas to treat farmers and laborers. They treated infectious disease, injuries from trauma, pain, paralysis and malnutrition among other things. Zhu De wrote in 1950, “Chinese acupuncture treatment has a history of thousands of years. It is not only simple and economical, but also very effective for many kinds of diseases”I hope that the doctors of both Western and traditional schools should unite for the further improvement of its technique and science.”

Indeed, Chinese physicians are now routinely trained in both traditional and Western medical practices. Acupuncture is used during many surgeries as an anesthetic. Herbal formulas (cooked in the basement pharmacy) are prescribed in hospitals along with Western pharmaceuticals. Acupuncture has again become an important part of the Chinese medical system, which is truly one of the most integrated in the world.

So isn’t it ironic that a medicine revived in China to treat the masses has become in this country an elite treatment associated with spas and health clubs? At an average of $60-100 per session, it is difficult for working class and many middle class folks to be able to afford enough treatments to address their problems adequately. The good news is that more and more insurance companies are recognizing the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture performed by licensed acupuncturists. The bad news is that more and more people are having insurance benefits cut or simply doing without insurance altogether.

In response to all of this, Stillpoint Acupuncture has joined with a national movement seeking to create ways for acupuncture to become more accessible to more people. For the past seven years, Stillpoint Acupuncture in Greensboro has been providing sliding scale treatments for patients seeking help with everything from allergies to back pain. In October, 2010 we finally opened a community clinic in Siler City as well, which is available every Wednesday afternoon.

When you visit the community clinic, you will see that we treat 5-6 people at a time. Most people sit in reclining chairs, and there are some tables available for those who need them. There is soft music playing and the lights are dimmed. While the setting is decidedly less private than most acupuncture offices, there is a certain atmosphere that is created when people come together for the purpose of improved well-being. People have commented, “I feel better just being here.

This style of treatment more closely resembles how acupuncture is administered in China, with patients coming for treatment 3-5 times per week and receiving treatments in a large room along with several other patients. Because patients remain clothed in this setting, we rely on points in the arms, legs, ears and head. However, these points can be used to treat all kinds of conditions, including back pain, hot flashes and digestive problems.

For example, Chris began coming when a friend told her about the clinic. She had suffered from daily headaches for years. She commented on her first visit that she had always wanted to try acupuncture, but knew that she couldn’t afford it, and her insurance did not cover it. She came every week at first and within two months, her headaches became the exception rather than the norm. She began coming twice per month and her headaches continued to improve, becoming an occasional nuisance. Now I see her about once every 4-6 weeks because as she says, “I didn’t realize until I quit coming so often, but the acupuncture was controlling my joint pain too!”

–Heather McIver, L.Ac.