If you are old enough to remember when disco was first a thing, you might also remember that chiropractic wasn’t covered by most health insurance plans. Back when John Travolta was just getting his start and the Bee Gees were a worldwide sensation, insurance companies viewed chiropractic as experimental medicine. It sounds a lot like how they view stem cell therapy in 2019.
There are plenty of parallels to draw between the insurance company practices of the 1970s and today. Insurance companies seem to make arbitrary decisions that don’t line up with common sense. As such, patients suffer because they cannot get the treatments they need.
Chiropractic medicine has existed for centuries. Americans sought it out back in the 70s even though they paid for it out-of-pocket. It was worth it to them. They were willing forgo some of the other luxuries of life just to get relief from their chronic pain and discomfort.
A consequence of the lack of insurance coverage was a limited market for chiropractic. While there were some people willing to pay out-of-pocket, the vast number of patients who could have benefited from it didn’t want to pay. This kept the market small, which subsequently prevented chiropractic from advancing as quickly as it could have.
Out-Of-Pocket Stem Cell Treatments
Fast-forward some 40 years and we observed much the same thing in regenerative medicine. Particularly in the area of stem cell treatments, people who could otherwise benefit from them are being blocked out because their insurance companies will not cover the cost. Many patients cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket, and others simply don’t want to. So the market for stem cell therapy is somewhat limited.
Once again, the reasoning here is that stem cell injections are unproven. Insurance companies are not going to cover what they consider experimental medicine. In addition, Salt Lake City-based Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) says that doctors are reluctant to get involved with stem cell treatments if insurance will not cover them.
Yet there is a very big difference between modern stem cell injections and 1970s-era chiropractic. The difference is found in leukemia. For decades, leukemia patients have been receiving bone marrow transplants that ultimately go on to save their lives. It turns out that bone marrow transplant is a stem cell procedure we know works.
That is not to say that stem cell injections can cure anything that ails you. It is obvious they cannot. But stem cell therapy is neither junk science nor experimental. There is plenty of evidence in support of its efficacy for a variety of musculoskeletal issues.
Insurance Coverage Would Help
The most maddening aspect to current insurance company practices is that they don’t make any sense. They are inconsistent. An insurance company will pay for years of pain medication prescribed to an osteoarthritis patient. Insurance will pay for corticosteroid injections. Years down the road, after the patient can no longer take the pain, insurance will pay for joint replacement.
All of this adds up to tens of thousands of dollars for just one joint. If you are talking two knees or hips, double the cost. Had the insurance company been willing to cover stem cell injections way back when symptoms first started, it is entirely possible the patient never would have needed joint replacement surgery. How much money would the insurance company have saved?
Insurance coverage would help make stem cell injections more accessible to more patients. It might also help to advance the science of regenerative medicine much the same way it eventually helped move chiropractic and acupuncture forward. So why is there so much resistance?