I never really thought about acupuncture growing up. Before last year, the idea of acupuncture evoked an expensive, bougie, and “boutique-y” practice only accessible to the wealthy. Yet, after taking a class on Alternative and Complementary Medicines (CAM) my first semester junior year, I learned how acupuncture and other CAM modalities are valuable and successful options for healthcare for a variety of health problems. Acupuncture is a safe, non-invasive option that can help with multiple problems. Acupuncture not only can relieve serious pains, it can be an invaluable option for people with mental health conditions. On top of all of this, acupuncture enables people to take care of themselves holistically. By only taking a pill every time I got sick, I did not pay attention to my whole body. Then when the pain became unbearable, I had to look for an option that could address my entire system.
By regularly receiving acupuncture, patients tend to see healthcare as a part of their everyday routine. This in turn leads to patients feeling that they are gaining back some agency in their health.* Although research shows that acupuncture is successful, it is often stigmatized because it is equated to exactly the things I mentioned above. In actuality, it is an age old practice that has helped millions of people all over the world.
In the U.S., however, acupuncture is often overpriced. Due to a lack of U.S. research on acupuncture, as well as a general misunderstanding of its efficacy, many insurance companies do not cover it. This makes it nearly impossible for acupuncturists to maintain their practices without charging high fees (average costs are around $100 per treatment). Consequently, this causes acupuncture to be accessible only to a certain population who can afford to pay out of pocket. Even then, often patients can only afford to get treatment occasionally. This is less than ideal since acupuncture is most effective when it is done with regularity.
Okay, so I just said a bunch of sad facts about our healthcare system and acupuncture in the U.S. BUT, not to worry! Here is the good news: there is an organization that works to bring affordable acupuncture treatment to everyone! People’s Organization for Community Acupuncture (POCA) is an organization that strives to bring healthcare to all people, especially those who are actively being affected by systematic and institutional oppression.
POCA clinics work in a community fashion. They strive to make things as simple as possible so that they are able to care for as many people as possible. One of the ways they do this is through treating all patients together in one large treatment room. Although this sounds like a lack of privacy, it actually works well and many patients seem to prefer this group healing space. Most clinics use comfortable reclining chairs, have the lights dimmed, and have soft music playing in the background. This practice allows clinics to save a lot of money without any reduction in level or quality of care. Additionally, this helps the clinic too, by enabling it to use a sliding scale payment system. At the clinic where I work, Community Acupuncture Project of West Seattle (CAP), the sliding fee scale is $20-$60. Patients pay what they can with absolutely no follow up or pressure to pay more. With this model, patients are able to get more treatment more frequently.
As a film and anthropology major, I am fortunate to be tasked with reaching out and explaining this information to patients and prospective patients. As the clinic’s film and outreach intern, I have been editing and filming four to five videos for the clinic’s website. It has been eye opening to hear how community acupuncture has made huge impacts on people’s lives. As someone who feels passionately about public health and accessible healthcare, I feel incredibly grateful to be a part of an environment that strives to bring affordable treatments to the Seattle community. As I enter my senior year at Whitman, I look forward to applying the stories and testimonials of clients and acupuncturists from the CAP community to discussions regarding affordable healthcare options and public health. I’m so grateful for all of the volunteers and acupuncturists who work so hard to make being healthy and happy accessible!
*With this said, it is important to note that acupuncturists are not against biomedicine and do not strive to be an alternative to biomedicine. Rather, acupuncture and other integrative medicine modalities should be combined with biomedicine practices.
Experiences like Olivia’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff