A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators have introduced S.586, the Non-Opioids Prevent Addiction in the Nation (NOPAIN Act), which would increase funding for programs that can fight patient pain without only relying on pharmaceuticals.
The proposed bill contains language that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to report to Congress on identified gaps in Medicare coverage for pain, including massage therapy. When the gaps are identified there would then be recommendations to increase patient access to these therapies.
If this legislation becomes law, massage therapists would be in a position to provide options for those in pain as alternatives to the use of opioids. As of July 23, the act had been read twice in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Finance.
For years there has been a growing crisis in the U.S. with the proliferation and overuse of opioids to combat body pain. An estimated 93,331 people died from drug overdoses in 2020, a 29.4 percent increase from what was already a record high in 2019, according to provisional data released by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
The CDC has estimated that the economic cost of the opioid epidemic in 2017 was at $1,021 billion, which includes costs of health care, addiction treatment, criminal justice, lost quality of life and lost productivity.
“The NOPAIN Act would not change anything about the way chronic pain is treated,” reads a statement from Voices for Non-Opioid Choices. “The legislation is designed to improve access to non-opioids only to manage acute pain, which is the temporary pain that presents after a specific incident, such as an injury or a surgical procedure. Right now, acute pain patients are often denied access to the wide range of available, non-addictive opioid alternatives. Fixing that problem – and giving these patients access to the non-opioid options that healthcare providers believe they should have – is the singular issue that the NOPAIN Act would address.”
What MTs Say About the NOPAIN Act
Jacqueline Manning, LMT, in Rock Hill, Missouri, believes this bill is a step forward in massage being seen as a health care service for the role it plays in pain relief and mental health.
“My target client is a client who is in pain, and they’re looking for a way to not have to go through the pharmaceutical avenue,” said Manning. “If massage therapy can get under the umbrella of health care alongside physical therapy and chiropractic, it will change the game. It would look like a team of people working together for the betterment of the individual and not going through a pharmaceutical that is going to push pills.”
Many massage professionals know from the personal experience of working on clients in pain that often well-performed massage treatments can make a big difference.
Rob Thomas, CMT, in Irvine, California, has used his massage skills to help those suffering from pain, having worked at the University of California Irvine Health Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, which integrates massage therapy, acupuncture, nutrition and naturopaths into patient care. Thomas said working on the source of the pain and not just the symptoms means that “massage is part of that, nutrition is part of that, the psychological is part of that, and strengthening is part of that.”
He said he hopes this new legislation can have a real impact. “I feel that this legislation opens the path for us to start looking at more than just the symptomology response. That is my dream,” said Thomas.
Others such as Kristen Pechacek, CFE, certified franchise executive and chief growth officer for MassageLuXe, believes the proposed legislation could be huge for both patients and the massage profession.
“The NOPAIN Act is one of the first steps in really pushing the movement that massage is a complementary form of health care, and we need to push that movement for people who are struggling with chronic pain,” said Pechacek.
[Read more about the NOPAIN ACT here.]
The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has publicly endorsed this new legislation because in part it will be massage professionals that will step in and provide alternative pain management for people suffering.
“Massage therapy is specifically supported throughout the HHS Report, and there is an abundance of evidence indicating both the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of massage therapy. Medicare Advantage (MA) already includes massage as a supplemental benefit for pain management in MA plans, and we encourage passage of this commonsense bill that can help address the current deficit in coverage that unfortunately still exists in traditional Medicare for massage therapy,” said the AMTA in an emailed statement to MASSAGE Magazine.
Next Steps — How You Can Help
As America continues to struggle with the consequences of the opioid addictions, continued efforts to make alternative pain management solutions available will grow. Most massage professionals already know that their work has had great results in helping those that are in pain.
It will, of course not be a fast move to implementing massage and other alternative pain relief services, as new legislation takes time. However, this conversation happening in the hallways of the government is an optimistic step.
Manning has clients and friends in chronic pain and said it puts an enormous amount of stress on the body because pain is what they feel all the time. Massage as an alternative would help them out of the fight, flight, freeze response, he added.
“When you have the ability to relax and you go out into the world, the world isn’t such a scary place. It’s a little calmer,” said Manning.
Massage therapists can encourage their representatives to vote for this legislation by reaching out to them directly.
About the Author:
Aiyana Fraley, LMT, is a freelance writer and health care professional with more than 18 years of experience in the massage field. She teaches yoga and offers sessions in massage, Reiki, sound healing and essential oils. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Will Touch in Long-Term Care Facilities be Changed Forever by COVID-19?” and “The Massage Therapist’s Guide to Assisted Stretching Techniques” (both, massagemag.com).