The Mercer Health and Benefits group recently did a cost analysis of chiropractic care for low back pain (.pdf warning). They found that when chiropractic care is added to a health benefit plan, the total cost increase of the plan per patient per year increases by only $75. This is highly cost effective care because it represents a good value in comparison to medical care and to widely accepted cost-effectiveness thresholds. Low back pain is extremely common, and chiropractic care is well established as the treatment of choice for people suffering from low back pain.
When you add chiropractic care to a health insurance plan, the total cost per patient every year only increases by $75. For neck pain, it actually costs less by $302, incidentally. Chiropractic care is shown to produce better pain and disability outcomes for low back pain, and is shown to be more satisfying to patients when surveyed by satisfaction rates. This small increase doesn’t even take into account that the researchers didn’t add the costs of pharmaceutical drugs to the health care bill, so their numbers may be conservative.
Chiropractic care is a drug free approach to low back pain relief. Chiropractic care consists mainly of spinal manipulation (adjustments) as a modality, but also incorporates a number of other therapies. These therapies include strengthening exercises, muscle work, stretches, nutritional consulting or therapy, low level laser therapy, or spinal decompression. Since it is drug free, there are no side effects from anti-inflammatory drugs or other pain killers. Since chiropractors eschew surgery until the last resort, there is no surgical recovery, risk of infection, or surgical costs. Chiropractors are trained to diagnose ailments throughout the whole body, just like the medical doctor does, and chiropractors do this especially well for neuro-musculo-skeletal issues.
The research supports a few conclusions about chiropractic care:
- Chiropractic care is at least as effective as other approaches and therapies for low back pain.
- Chiropractic care, when combined with other modalities such as exercise and physiotherapy is more effective than other therapies for neck pain.
- Chiropractic coverage, when included in health plans, reduced the amount of inpatient hospitalizations, reduced the use of imaging studies, reduced hospitalization, and surgical procedures.
Table 5 of the report shows something really interesting about cost savings. They show that for neck pain, the fee per visit reimbursed to the chiropractor makes no difference if the chiropractor is given $40 per visit or given $100. The difference per year is only $6.
As of now, while there could me more studies done to get more conclusive data, it appears that chiropractic care is a tremendous asset to back pain sufferers. If the government is making policy that includes a nationalized health care benefit system, they should be very interested in putting chiropractors in the system, and by paying them well.
Todd Lloyd, DC