Work Related Injuries, Recurring
Pain, Chronic Care and
A Proven Solution to Save Federal,
State and Private Insurers
by Mark Studin DC, FASBE(C), DAAPM, DAAMLP
Published in Dynamic Chiropractic 8/26/2011
Low back pain and its treatment are a worldwide epidemic in human suffering and as a result, an economic burden to federal, state, public and self-insured risk takers who insure the injured. In 2009, Russo, Weir and Elixhauser reported that hospital stays for low back pain were 3.9 out of every 1000 people aged 55-64 years. That was rated as the #8 reason for hospital stays and fell closely behind cardiac conditions and degenerative arthritis. While low back pain has been well chronicled, recurring low back pain and the necessity for chronic care is now beginning to realize results that necessitate the proper approach to mitigate its frequency, duration and economic impact as sequella.
A very significant component of low back patient is its recurrence after initial care has been rendered as well as complications that ensue. Wasiak, Kim and Pransky reported in 2006 that, "Recent studies suggest that acute low back pain evolves into a chronic or recurrent condition more often than previously suspected" (p. 220). They went on to report that 40% of individuals with recurring low back pain sought additional care when the pain recurred and 42.9% of those had continued care and work disability lasting more than 201 days, underscoring the significance of the problem.
According to Dagenais, Caro and Haldeman in 2007, "The economic burden of a disease is the sum of all costs associated with that condition which would not otherwise be incurred if that disease did not exist. Given the many categories of costs that must be considered, it can be challenging to fully estimate the economic burden of an illness as data are often unavailable. The term 'cost' in health economics refers to the value of the consequences of using a particular good or service rather than its price...Despite this example, it should be made clear that estimating the economic burden of a disease is not simply a matter of tabulating the amount reimbursed for all clinician services related to a particular diagnosis. The total cost of illness—or economic burden—has three components: (1) direct (medical and nonmedical) costs; (2) indirect costs; and (3) intangible costs" (p. 9). Although indirect and intangible costs are significant burdens, this paper will focus solely on direct costs.
When considering direct costs for work related claims, studies indicate that non-work related indemnity plans should be included for work related low back injuries. Lipscomb, Dement, Silverstein, Cameron, and Glazner reported in 2009 that, "The private health insurance payment rates for workers with one work-related injury were 40% higher than for those with no history of work injury..." (p. 1188). The reasons are simple; indemnity carriers are victims of many workers' compensation carrier tactics created by the indemnity carriers, as reported by Griffin (2007), to deny, delay and defend. Patients need care and will access any system at their disposal so they can get necessary care and return to a normal, pain free lifestyle, leaving the indemnity carriers to absorb those financial costs. Although this is a significant factor, it is difficult to assign numbers and amounts that are directly tied to work related injuries, although those statistics undoubtedly tally in the billions.
Utilizing the Joint Report to the Governor by New York State Workers’ Compensation Board in 2009 as a reference, in 2004 the total number of claims in New York was 143,667 and out of those claims, 19.3% were low back related. The total costs for treating low back was $579,675,476.96, calculated for inflation to 2011 (Tom's Inflation Calculator, 1997-2011, http://www.halfhill.com/inflation.html). This equates to $29.88 per resident to treat work related low back pain. Nationally, this equates to $9,262,855,559 based upon US Census statistics.
Cifuentes, Willets and Wasiak (2011) compared the treatment of recurrent or chronic low back pain. They considered any condition recurrent or chronic if there was a recurrent disability after a 15 day absence and return to disability. Anyone with less than a 15 day absence was excluded from the study.
The study concluded that chiropractic care during the health maintenance care period resulted in:
16% Decrease in disability duration of first episode compared to physical therapy
240% Decrease in disability duration of first episode compared to medical physician's care
6.6% Decrease in opioid (narcotic) use during maintenance care compared to physical therapy care
17.2% Decrease in opioid (narcotic) use during maintenance care compared medical physician's care
32% Decrease in average weekly cost of medical expenses during disability episode compared to physical therapy care
21% Decrease in average weekly cost of medical expenses during disability episode compared to medical physician's care
The study concluded that chiropractic care during the disability episode resulted in:
24% Decrease in disability duration of first episode compared to physical therapy
250% Decrease in disability duration of first episode compared to medical physician's care
5.9% Decrease in opioid (narcotic) use during maintenance care compared to physical therapy care
30.3% Decrease in opioid (narcotic) use during maintenance care compared medical physician's care
19% Decrease in average weekly cost of medical expenses during disability episode compared to physical therapy care
43% Decrease in average weekly cost of medical expenses during disability episode compared to medical physician's care
Based upon the Joint Report to the Governor (2009) and the statistics rendered by Cifuentes et al. (2011), the savings with chiropractic care utilized exclusive from medicine and physical therapy ranges from $1,759,942,556 with physical therapy to $3,983,027,890 with medicine. Understanding that most medical physicians utilize physical therapy as a primary tool for back related pain, we will average the savings to $2,871,485,223 by utilizing chiropractic care.
Cifuentes et. al (2011) started by stating, "Given chiropractors are proponents of health maintenance care...patients with work related Low back pain who are treated by chiropractors would have a lower risk of recurrent disability because that specific approach would be used (p. 396). They concluded by stating, "After controlling for demographic factors and multiple severity indicators, patients suffering nonspecific work-related LBP who received health services mostly or only from a chiropractor had a lower risk of recurrent disability than the risk of any other provider type (Cifuentes et. al, 2011, p. 404).
1. Russo, A., Wier, L. M., & Elixhauser, A. (2009, September). Hospital utilization among near-elderly adults, ages 55 to 64 years, 2007. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Retrieved from http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb79.jsp
2. Wasiak, R., Kim, J., & Pransky, G. (2006). Work disability and costs caused by recurrence of low back pain: Longer and more costly than in first episodes. Spine, 31(2), 219-225.
3. Dagenais, S., Caro, J., & Haldeman, S. (2008). A systematic review of low back pain cost of illness studies in the United States and internationally. Spine, 8(1), 8-20.
4. Lipscomb, H., Dement, J., Silverstein, B., Cameron, W., & Glazner J. (2009). Who is paying the bills? Health care costs for musculoskeletal back disorders, Washington State Union Carpenters, 1989-2003. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 51(10), 1185-1192.
5. Griffin, D. (2007, February 7). Insurance companies fight paying billions in claims. Anderson Cooper Blog 360°, Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/anderson.cooper.360/blog/2007/02/ insurance-companies-fight-paying.html
6. New York State Workers’ Compensation Board (2009, March). Joint report to the Governor, From the Superintendant of Insurance and Chair, Workers' Compensation Board, summarizing and benchmarking workers' compensation data and examining progress on prior recommendations for improvement in data collection, Retrieved from http://www.wcb.state.ny.us/content/main/TheBoard/ 2009DataCollectionReport.pdf
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8. U.S. Census Bureau (2010, December 22). U.S. POPClock Projection, Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/population/www/popclockus.html
9. Cifuentes, M., Willets, J., & Wasiak, R. (2011). Health maintenance care in work-related low back pain and its association with disability recurrence. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 53(4), 396-404.
Studin, M. (2009). U.S. Chiropractic Directory. Retrieved From http://www.uschirodirectory.com.