Back pain isn't just your Uncle Wilfred's problem anymore. Today, after childbirth, it's the leading cause of hospitalizations and costs American patients more than $100 billion annually. Many insurance plans do not pay for access to a chiropractor, but maybe they should, according to new research. Researchers from around the country analyzed whether or not chiropractic care could help alleviate back pain and reduce hospitalizations and healthcare costs.
What the researchers wanted to know: Does regular access to a chiropractor lower hospitalizations and healthcare costs associated with back pain?
What they did: The researchers analyzed four years of insurance claims from 1.7 million people on the same basic healthcare plan. Seven hundred thousand of them had the additional benefit of chiropractic care included in their insurance, and 1 million did not. The researchers compared the health insurance costs of those with and without chiropractic care in terms of hospital visits, use of MRI or other scanning machines, and spinal surgery. They looked at both overall health costs and costs associated with back pain.
What they found: People who had chiropractic care as part of their insurance plan had 12 percent lower healthcare costs per year than those without the coverage, and the researchers used a statistical method to determine that chiropractors saved these participants about 1.6 percent per year. Among patients with back pain, those with chiropractic coverage paid an average of $289 per episode they sought treatment for, an average of 28 percent less than those without coverage. The researchers guess that people with chiropractic coverage pay less because they treat their back pain with less costly procedures, whereas those without use costly procedures, such as X-ray scans or prescriptions to treat theirs. Their theory is backed up by the fact that people with chiropractic insurance were less likely to be hospitalized and use MRIs or other scanning machines.
What it means to you: While chiropractors appear to offer significant financial benefits, there are still many insurance plans that do not cover these visits. As this study shows, if patients or insurers are willing to shell out a few extra bucks to the chiropractors, they may save money in the long run.
Caveats: The people with chiropractic coverage tended to be younger and healthier than those who did not have the coverage. So, the reason that their costs and hospitalizations were lower could be because they were in better shape to begin with, not because they saw a chiropractor.
Find out more: The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website has a page with an explanation of why back pain happens and what you can do about it.
The American Chiropractic Association explains what chiropractos do.
The Mayo Clinic also has a helpful Web page, with information about causes and treatments.
Read the article: Legorreta, A.P. et al. "Comparative Analysis of Individuals With and Without Chiropractic Coverage." Archives of Internal Medicine. Oct. 11, 2004. Vol. 164, No. 18, pp. 19851992.
Abstract online: http://archinte.ama-assn.org