Acupuncture supporters rally for Medi-Cal benefits in San Francisco

Patients who rely on acupuncture, and the medical experts who perform the procedure, held a rally in San Francisco's Chinatown to advocate for the medical practice. They're worried the governor's newest budget proposal will cut them off from the care they need.

For some 3,000 years in China, acupuncture has been practiced as health care, and patients in San Francisco today still rely on medical treatments. 

Currently, Medi-Cal will pay for acupuncture, but the governor's revised budget plan to account for a shortfall will pull that coverage back. 

"Medi-Cal plans to cut acupuncture benefits after June 15, 2024. This will hurt the AAPI community and many others," said Lili Qiao, North East Medical Services director of integrative medicine.

The governor's office referred us to his announcement of the revised budget earlier this month, saying Gov. Gavin Newsom would prefer not to make any cuts: "None of this is work you enjoy doing, but you've got to do. We have to be responsible, we have to be accountable…We have to balance the budget."

Acupuncture supporters say the cut in coverage would only save $5.4 million over the next year, but would severely impact the care of those who rely on it. Qiao says many of her patients rely on acupuncture to receive culturally appropriate care. 

She says the overwhelming majority of her patients rely on Medi-Cal to cover that care. 

"90%, I would say 90% of patients or above, are from Medi-Cal, seeking Medi-Cal services," said Qiao.

Patients such as Manmei Cheung said they rely on acupuncture.  

"After I experienced two car accidents and was diagnosed three times with COVID-19, acupuncture helped me to feel better," she said in Cantonese.

Mollee Bekele says she has dealt with chronic pain for years, and, after losing her employment, relies on Medi-Cal to help her receive the only treatment that's worked so far. 

"I'm in far less pain, far less anxiety, and when I do have those symptoms I can go in, and I can access a doctor that I wouldn't be able to, that I wouldn't be able to do if I didn't have access through the state," said Bekele.

President of the Board of Supervisors Aaron Peskin says he will introduce a resolution to the board urging lawmakers to block any efforts to cut Medi-Cal access to acupuncture.