There’s little doubt that the United States is in the midst of an opioid crisis. While four out of five new heroin users start out by misusing prescription painkillers, it’s now often the prescription drugs themselves that lead to devastation and death. Between 1999 and 2014, more than 165,000 people in the U.S. died from prescription opioid overdoses. While prescription opioids do have their important uses, it’s clear that they are far too easy to obtain — and that many medical professionals are far too willing to prescribe them to patients. Given what we now know about the benefits of pain management alternatives, Arizona is now considering a bill that would add chiropractic coverage to Medicaid policies, in an attempt to keep opioid prescriptions (and addictions) down.
Worldwide, more than 1 million chiropractic adjustments are given on a daily basis. In America, more than 22 million residents visit a chiropractor every year. And a new data analysis revealed that this can be particularly important for those with chronic pain. That analysis showed that patients who went to a chiropractor to receive treatment for a musculoskeletal pain condition were 49% less likely to receive an opioid prescription, compared to their counterparts who visited other healthcare providers. What’s more, the American College of Physicians made updates to its guidelines in 2017 to reflect recommendations for chiropractic care and other non-invasive and non-drug treatments for back pain over prescription opioids.
Although many health insurance plans do cover chiropractic care to a certain extent, it’s important to note that many older Americans may often be forced to pay for this treatment totally out-of-pocket. For a senior with back pain living on a fixed income, it’s often easier to go to one’s regular physician, or an urgent care, for help than to visit a specialist and pay a lot more for it. More than one quarter (27%) of U.S. patients reported in 2016 that they had visited an urgent care center in the last two years, oftentimes those visits are for minor injuries that could be treated with chiropractic care. The state of Arizona wants to do something about that.
Under Senate Bill 1097, which has already passed through the Senate, would add chiropractic services to the state’s Medicaid coverage — a feature already offered by 27 other states in some shape or form. Introduced by Senator Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek), the bill would allow patients who are enrolled in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to receive a prescription from their primary care doctors for 20 chiropractic visits per year, with the option to add more as needed. Although some legislators want to instate a cap for how many referrals an individual can obtain, chiropractors caution that only 20 visits may not be enough to provide significant improvement to a given patient’s quality of life, depending on their unique circumstances. Still, most seem to agree that it could help Arizona residents — and there’s plenty of evidence that the cost benefits could be major.
In a study that examined patients in a comparable healthcare coverage program in Rhode Island, analysts found that total per-patient costs decreased by 36% after the program added chiropractic coverage. Meanwhile, opioid use decreased by 87% and total opioid prescriptions decreased by 72% in those studied compared to participants in a control group. And while adding chiropractic coverage would cost $4.9 million initially, it would ultimately reduce patient expenditures in other areas.
Although the bill has not yet been signed into law, many medical professionals and patients alike are hopeful that this universal health concern will prompt legislators to make things official. If the state-funded Medicaid program can allow some of Arizona’s residents to access superior care and reduce opioid addiction at the same time, that will be a real boon — especially when you consider the fact that drug overdoses (particularly those involving fentanyl) reached an all-time here in January. Although politicians and law enforcement officials say they’re exploring the “next steps,” it’s clear that new action needs to be taken in order to curb the growing epidemic in Arizona and elsewhere.