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Network Matters
News and Information for the
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Network

May 2017

Non-Medication Alternative Treatments for Chronic Pain

Amid the current opioid addiction crisis in the United States, many patients are wary of taking opioids to manage their chronic pain, and may inquire about non-medication alternative treatments. Two increasingly popular pain management alternatives are acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy.


In recent years, a growing number of Americans have turned to acupuncture for help with a variety of conditions. Studies suggest that acupuncture may be helpful in treating chronic headaches, neck pain, low back pain, knee pain, osteoarthritis, and in relieving side effects from chemotherapy.

Harvard Pilgrim offers acupuncture benefits to most fully insured members of our Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut HMO, PPO, and POS products. The benefit includes coverage for up to 20 acupuncture visits per year (copayments, deductibles, and coinsurance may apply).

No referral is required, but HMO members must receive services from participating providers in order for these sessions to be covered. Harvard Pilgrim members have access to a select group of participating Healthways WholeHealth Networks acupuncturists. PPO and POS members can receive covered acupuncture services from participating or non-participating providers. A list of participating providers is available on our member website. If your practice includes an acupuncturist who would like to participate, please visit the Healthways website (click on the “Nominate a practitioner” link at the bottom of the page) for information on the nomination and credentialing process.

Cognitive behavioral therapy 

Like acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy has shown promise in treating chronic pain in patients with a variety of conditions, without the risks associated with medications and surgeries. As opposed to stopping physical pain from occurring, cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing the patient’s attitude and outlook regarding the pain, which can have a positive effect on how his/her body responds to it. A therapist using cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients to:

  • Identify negative thoughts
  • Stop negative thoughts
  • Practice using positive thoughts
  • Develop healthy thinking

If you think your patient could benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy to help manage chronic pain, Optum/UBH can assist you in referring the patient to a behavioral health specialist.

How Optum/UBH can help your patients — For complex clinical situations, Optum/UBH is available to provide consultative assistance. Practitioners can call the Optum/UBH Physicians Consultation Service at 800-292-2922. To refer a patient for behavioral health services and to facilitate the coordination of care, call Optum at 888-777-4742.

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Eric H. Schultz,
President and Chief Executive Officer

Robert Farias,
Vice President, Network Services

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