Prolotherapy Not Covered by Insurance
Is it impossible to have a healthcare system that is driven by profits to also be focused on inexpensive and permanent solutions?
When reports on ESPN this week revealed that some US Olympic Ski Team members left the country and went where they could use what is considered “alternative” treatments for relief of their injuries and pains, it once again elevated the question of why Medical insurance and workmans comp in the U.S. won’t cover procedures like that.
In many cases, these treatments prove markedly more effective than traditional therapies. The treatment called prolotherapy, used to strengthen weakened ligaments, is widely accepted and used in other countries with national health care systems, including Canada.
Prolotherapy has been considered “investigational” for 70 years by the Medicare board; insurance companies will cover it when Medicare decides to cover it.
The practice of prolotherapy is used by both medical doctors (MD’s) and osteopathic physicians (DO’s), such as Dr. Jo Ann Douglas of Colorado Osteopathic & Sports Medicine, to treat several different types of chronic pain. It may be the latest alternative therapy to hit the sports medicine scene.
Doctors are using the treatment successfully for tennis elbow, Achilles tendonitis, patellar tendonitis, back problems, and other common sports injuries. Prolotherapy is also effective in cases of arthritis, fibromyalgia, whiplash, and chronic pain in the neck, back, shoulder, ankle, and sciatica. It relieves disk problems unresponsive to more conservative treatment.
According to Dr. Douglas, there are approximately 600 licensed physicians in the U.S. that perform this procedure. “Prolotherapy treats the cause of the problem; that is, instability. We inject a solution into the ligament or tendon where it attaches to the bone, which stimulates the body’s own healing response by creating blood flow to the area, recruiting immune system cells that clean the area, and construction cells (fibroblasts) that rebuild the tissues.
“This is the exact opposite of the current standard of care, which treats pain and inflammation with anti-inflammatories. Prolotherapy promotes the body’s inflammatory process so that the body can heal itself. In most cases, commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory medications and drastic measures like surgery or joint replacement may not help, and often hinder or even prevent the healing process.”
According to Dr. Douglas, “many patients do not understand why insurance companies will not reimburse for this technique. In many cases it may save the patient from chronic pain management or surgery, which would save money for insurance companies and Medicare as well as treat the cause of the problem for the patient.”
The federal government hears issues from large special interest groups loud and clear. The drug companies, surgeons and chiropractors are heard; whereby the 600 doctors who perform prolotherapy are a very small voice in the healthcare system. In fact, they were not heard at all until Olympic Athletes went to Mexico to get prolotherapy.
Vioxx was covered by insurance, even though it had risks. Surgeons continually change their methods and the new surgery techniques are covered by Medicare and insurances. Secondly, surgeons use cortisone for temporary relief even though cortisone has been proven to cause ligament and tendon deterioration, which may only lead to surgery.
X-rays and MRI’s do not always reveal injuries. The number of qualified doctors specifically trained to administer prolotherapy is growing. There are training programs at medical schools now that teach this technique, including how to properly diagnose these injuries.
Although medical doctors who do prolotherapy will continue to be few until more evidence accumulates, osteopaths like Dr. Douglas have a long track record with the procedure.
Each injection treatment varies in cost, ranging from less than $100 for smaller joints to several hundred dollars for larger or more complex joints such as those in the neck and back. Most people need 4-6 treatments — usually administered in a series of injections three weeks apart — to stabilize the joint
WHY ISN'T PROLOTHERAPY COVERED BY MEDICAL INSURERS?
Modern allopathic medical research demands that therapies be proven by double-blind methods. This means that neither the patient nor the physician know which therapy is used. For medications, the pills can easily be made to look alike, and a sugar pill used as a placebo is presumed to have no therapeutic value.
For procedures like prolotherapy and most surgeries, there is no adequate placebo. Cortisone cannot be used as a placebo because cortisone can only be injected 3 times a year; typically, prolotherapy requires 4-6 treatments.
The Medicare board wants more data to show the effectiveness of prolotherapy. Drug companies pay for research when it is profitable. They are unlikely to pay for research on prolotherapy because this would not be a profitable venture. In fact, drug companies and surgeons would profit less if prolotherapy would be more widely used, since fewer people would need pain medication and they could avoid expensive surgeries or complications from surgeries.
Dr. Douglas can be contacted through her Website (www.mycodo.com) which further explains this procedure.
Jo Ann Douglas, M.S. D.O.
Board Certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine
Colorado Osteopathic & Sports Medicine