Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, commonly known as TENS units, can treat chronic pain by using a low voltage electric current. One popular use of these units is in treating back pain.
The unit is powered by either a battery or by plugging it in to an outlet. It comes with attachable cords tied with electrodes that conduct a current from the unit. The electrodes attach to the skin around the area where you are experiencing pain.
For those over the age of 65, a common question many have is, “Does Medicare cover TENS Units?” In this article, we answer that question in clear, plain English. You will also find the average costs of TENS units and other helpful info.
Does Medicare Cover TENS Units?
The short answer is no. While Medicare used to provide coverage for these units, that is no longer the case.
Below we’ll take a closer look at this to see why Medicare will no longer pay for them. We’ll also look at when you might be able to get Medicare to pay for other pain management options.
Original Medicare TENS Unit Coverage
Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B) does not provide coverage for TENS units. So, if you want one, you will have to pay 100 percent of the cost.
Many feel that TENS units can be a good solution in treating chronic pain, especially back pain. However, research studies have not been able to show these units provide consistent results.
This lack of strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of TENS units is why Medicare doesn’t cover them anymore.
It was in 2012 that the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made the decision to stop providing coverage for TENS units for treating chronic lower back pain. CMS stated that TENS units are not a reasonable or necessary treatment for chronic lower back pain.
Coverage For Treatment of Lower Back Pain
Even though Original Medicare does not provide coverage for TENS units, it does provide other types of treatment for chronic lower back pain (and pain in general).
Medicare Part B provides coverage for a variety of medically necessary services, equipment, and treatment for managing pain. Some of these treatments and services include:
- Screenings to determine the source of pain
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Manual manipulation of the spine
However, Medicare Part B will only provide coverage for these services and treatments if they are medically necessary.
Part C Coverage for TENS Units
We are not aware of any Medicare Part C plans that offer coverage for TENS units.
However, Medicare Advantage plans (Medicare Part C) do provide coverage for other pain management services, equipment, and treatment.
These plans must cover everything Original Medicare covers but usually also offer some additional benefits. However, exactly what they cover and how much the out-of-pocket costs are will vary depending on the specifics of your plan.
Many Medicare Part C plans provide coverage for massage therapies. Many also provide coverage for prescription pain medications.
Medicare Part D plans may also provide coverage for medications to treat pain. But usually only if they are prescribed by your healthcare provider.
How Much Does A TENS Unit Cost?
You can find TENS units for sale online and at national retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and Target. TENS units will usually cost somewhere in the $30 to $100 range.
Note: Medicare coverage changes all the time. And your specific coverage may vary from plan to plan for Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans. Always be sure to double check with your health care provider and/or Medicare insurance provider about what your plan covers and what it does not.
Additional Info on Medicare Coverage
This article is part of our series on “What does Medicare cover?”
Also, you can check out other articles in this series including: Does Medicare cover an endoscopy?