Increased Use of Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Back Pain Following Statewide Medicaid Coverage Changes in Oregon

Esther K. Choo, Christina J. Charlesworth, Yifan Gu, Catherine J. Livingston, K. John McConnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: In 2016, Oregon introduced a policy to improve back pain treatment among Medicaid enrollees by expanding benefits for evidence-based complementary and alternative medical (CAM) services and establishing opioid prescribing restrictions. Objective: To examine changes in CAM utilization following the policy and variations in utilization across patient populations. Design: A retrospective study of Oregon Medicaid claims data, examining CAM therapy utilization by back pain patients pre- vs post-policy. We used an interrupted time series analysis to evaluate changes in CAM use and examined the association between patient characteristics and CAM use post-policy using linear regression models. Participants: Adult Medicaid patients with back pain. Intervention: The Oregon Medicaid back pain policy, administered through Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs). Main Measures: Use of CAM services. Key Results: Use of any CAM service increased from 7.9% (95% CI 7.6–8.2%) prior to the policy to 30.9% (95% CI 30.4–31.3%) after the policy. Acupuncture increased from 0.3 to 5.6%, chiropractic from 0.3 to 11.1%, massage from 1.6 to 14.8%, PT/OT from 6.0 to 17.7%, and osteopathic from 1.4 to 1.9%. Interrupted time series showed an overall increase in proportion of back pain patients who used CAM service following the policy. Among those who accessed CAM, the policy did not appear to increase the number of services used. In the post period, CAM services were accessed more often by female and older enrollees and urban populations. Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Hispanic enrollees were less likely to access CAM services; for Black enrollees, this was true for all types of services. Conclusions: CAM service utilization increased among back pain patients following implementation of Oregon’s policy. There was significant heterogeneity in uptake across service types, CCOs, and patient subgroups. Policymakers should consider implementation factors that might limit impact and perpetuate health disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)676-682
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • back pain
  • complementary and alternative medical therapy
  • policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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