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Obamacare and CAM III: Great Expectations

In a previous post, we looked at how so-called “complementary and alternative medicine” (or “CAM”) might fit into the definition of “essential health benefits,” which must be covered by insurers pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare,” or the “ACA”). In another, we contemplated what it might mean for insurers to “discriminate” against CAM providers, which is prohibited by the ACA. In both posts, the conclusion reached was that these provisions of Obamacare might not incorporate CAM practices into health care at the level CAM providers were hoping for. Here again we examine how the great expectations of CAM promoters may not be met in health care reform.

This time, we take a look at some additional provisions of the ACA that CAM lobbyists and their friends in Congress managed to insert into the healthcare overhaul. Of course, whether the ACA is around for much longer will depend on the outcome of the November elections, although Gov. Romney’s promise to “repeal Obamacare” if elected president will happen only if his party wins a majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate.  (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Legal, Naturopathy, Politics and Regulation

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Sports Physicals, Sudden Death, and Chiropractors

A correspondent sent me a link to an article about the decision of the Wichita Falls (Texas) Independent School District to recommend that chiropractors be allowed to give sports physicals to junior high and high school students. Current policy limits examiners to physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. Adding chiropractors to this list would bring the district in line with policies in the rest of Texas, as well as in some other states. And it would “give parents more options.”

I’ve written about the attempts of some chiropractors to assume the role of family doctors and why I think it is a terrible idea. The idea of allowing them to do sports physicals impresses me as somewhat less terrible, but not by very much.

The Reasons for Requiring Sports Physicals

The goals of the Pre-participation Athletic Exam (PAE) include:

  • To identify athletes who should not participate because of high risk of injury or death
  • To identify those who require further evaluation or treatment so they can participate safely
  • To identify conditions that do not affect athletic participation but that should be treated
  • To possibly identify those at risk for substance abuse, depression, violence, etc.
  • To provide preventive health advice
  • To satisfy legal requirements. (more…)

Posted in: Chiropractic, Public Health

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Don’t call CAM “cost-effective” unless it’s actually effective

Your health insurance plan probably covers anti-inflammatory drugs. But does it cover acupuncture treatments? Should it? Which health services deliver good value for money? Lest you think the debate is limited to the United States (which is an outlier when it comes to health spending), even countries with publicly-run healthcare systems are scrutinizing spending. Devoting dollars to one area (say, hospitals) is effectively a decision not to spend on something else, (perhaps public health programs). All systems, be they public or private, allocate funds in ways to spend money in the most efficient way possible. Thoughtful decisions require a consideration of both benefits and costs.

One of the consistent positions put forward by contributors to this blog is that all health interventions should be evaluated based on the same evidence standard. From this perspective, there is no distinct basket of products and services which are labelled “alternative”, “complementary” or more recently “integrative”. There are only treatments and interventions which have been evaluated to be effective, and those that have not. The idea that these two categories should both be considered valid approaches is a testament to promoters of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), who, unable to meet the scientific standard, have argued (largely successfully) for different standards and special consideration — be it product regulation (e.g., supplements) or practitioner regulation.

Yet promoters of CAM seek the imprimatur of legitimacy conferred by the tools of science. And in an environment of economic restraint in health spending, they further recognize that showing economic value of CAM is important. Consequently they use the tools of economics to argue a perspective, rather than answer a question. And that’s the case with a recent paper I noticed was being touted by alternative medicine practitioners. Entitled, Are complementary therapies and integrative care cost-effective? A systematic review of economic evaluations, it attempts to summarize economic evaluations conducted on CAM treatments. Why a systematic review? One of the more effective tools for evaluating health outcomes, a systematic review seeks to analyze all published (and unpublished) information on a focused question, using a standardized, transparent approach to evidence analysis. When done well, systematic reviews can sift through thousands of clinical trials to answer focused questions in ways that are less biased than cherry-picking individual studies. The Cochrane Review’s systematic reviews form one of the more respected sources of objective information (with some caveats) on the efficacy of different health interventions. So there’s been interest in applying the techniques of systematic reviews to questions of economics, where both costs and effects must be measured. Economic evaluations at their core seek to measure the “bang for the buck” of different health interventions. The most accurate economic analyses are built into prospective clinical trials. These studies collect real-world costs and patient consequences, and then allow an accurate evaluation of value-for-money. These types of analyses are rare, however. Most economic evaluations involve modelling (a little to a lot) where health effects and related costs are estimated, to arrive at a calculation of value. Then there’s a discussion of whether that value calculation is “cost-effective”. It’s little wonder that many health professionals look suspiciously at economic analyses: the models are complicated and involve so many variables with subjective inputs that it can be difficult to sort out what the real effects are. Not surprisingly, most economic analyses suggest treatments are cost-effective. Before diving into the study, let’s consider the approach:

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Posted in: Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Energy Medicine, Herbs & Supplements, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Science and Medicine

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Obamacare and CAM II: Discrimination (or not) against CAM

Supporters of science-based medicine have expressed concern over this provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare,” or the “ACA.”):

SEC. 2706. NON-DISCRIMINATION IN HEALTH CARE.

(a) PROVIDERS.—A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health care provider who is acting within the scope of that provider’s license or certification under applicable State law. This section shall not require that a group health plan or health insurance issuer contract with any health care provider willing to abide by the terms and conditions for participation established by the plan or issuer. Nothing in this section shall be construed as preventing a group health plan, a health insurance issuer, or the Secretary from establishing varying reimbursement rates based on quality or performance measures.

Section 2706 (now codified as 42 U.S.C. Sec. 300gg-5) goes into effect in 2014 and covers virtually all individual and group insurance market policies, although it is not clear whether it will apply to existing policies “grandfathered” in 2010 by the ACA.

Section 2706 was not part of the U.S House of Representatives version of the ACA but was included in the Senate version (which ultimately passed) under the guidance of (surprise!) Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). It was heavily lobbied by the American Chiropractic Association and other “CAM” providers, as well as some “conventional” providers like nurse anesthetists and optometrists. The legislative history (reports, committee minutes, floor debates and the like which precede a vote on a bill) indicates it was specifically included to prevent discrimination against CAM providers.  This is of obvious concern to anyone who supports science-based, or for that matter evidence-based, medicine, as there is nothing to indicate that scientific plausibility or evidence (or the lack thereof) actually affects CAM practices. It should also concern insurers and those who pay for insurance (employers and individuals) to the extent it might require payment for CAM treatments, as ineffective treatments will negatively affect their bottom line. The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Labor and the Treasury Department, which are charged with issuing regulations implementing the ACA, have not yet promulgated regulations for Section 2706. The American Medical Association House of Delegates has already passed a resolution seeking its repeal.

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Posted in: Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Legal, Naturopathy, Politics and Regulation

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The DC as PCP? Revisited

There is a disturbing effort afoot to rebrand chiropractors as primary care physicians, a subject both Harriet Hall and I have discussed in previous posts. Part of this effort includes convincing state legislatures to grant prescription privileges to chiropractors, an effort that succeeded in New Mexico, as reported in a post a couple of years ago. Let’s return to New Mexico and see how that is working out for everyone.

By way of background, in 2008, the New Mexico legislature created a new iteration of chiropractor called “certified advanced practice chiropractic physicians” with the authority to

prescribe, administer and dispense herbal medicine, homeopathic medicines, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, glandular products, naturally derived substances, protomorphogens, live cell products, gerovital, amino acids, dietary supplements, foods for special dietary use, bioidentical hormones, sterile water, sterile saline, sarapin or its generic, caffeine, procaine, oxygen, epinephrine and vapocoolants.

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Chiropractic gimmickry

[Editor's Note: Today, we have a guest post from Sam Homola, who, as you recall, practiced as a chiropractor until he ultimately realized that there is no evidence that subluxations exist. Since then, he's discussed in various places, including, we are pleased to say, SBM, his skepticism regarding chiropractic. Enjoy!]

Much has been written (and published on this site) about the implausibility of chiropractic vertebral subluxation theory which proposes that a vertebral subluxation complex or a spinal joint dysfunction “may affect organ system function and general health.” Associated chiropractic gimmickry that might be harmful as well as a waste of time and money should be also be brought to the attention of concerned consumers. As a chiropractor (retired) who has renounced subluxation theory, it might be helpful to share my concerns about some dubious chiropractic methods that are foisted upon an unsuspecting public, unchallenged in the market place.
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Chiropractic Strokes Again: An Update

The risk of stroke with neck manipulation has been addressed on SBM before by Dr. Crislip, by myself, by chiropractor Samuel Homola, and by Jann Bellamy. I have listed the links at the end of this article for the convenience of interested readers. Recent studies merit a followup.

A case report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine July 17, 2012, describes a 37 year old nurse who had a history of chronic neck pain. She had been getting neck manipulations from her chiropractor once a month for 12-15 years! (One can only conclude that the manipulations had not accomplished much.) She developed a new symptom (pain when turning her head up and to the right), and at her 4th visit in a week, during neck manipulation, she heard a loud pop and immediately had the sensation that the room was spinning. She developed visual disturbances, vomited, and had a loss of balance, persistently falling to the left. The chiropractor failed to recognize her symptoms as signs of a stroke. Instead of rushing her to the ER, he performed an  “occipital adjustment” in an attempt to relieve her symptoms. She went to the ER 1.5 hours after the event and was found to have a cervical artery dissection. She was discharged from the hospital after 48 hours but has residual symptoms. The authors’ conclusion:

Although incidence of cervical artery dissection precipitated by chiropractic neck manipulation is unknown, it is an important risk. Given that risk, physical therapy exercises may be a safer option than spinal manipulation for patients with neck pain.

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NCCAM manipulates spinal manipulation

“Complementary and alternative medicine,” as pediatrician and fellow blogger John Snyder aptly stated in a recent journal article on CAM and children,

is a term used to describe a disparate, poorly defined set of practices and treatment modalities presumed to be distinct from so-called ‘conventional medicine’.

As we have discussed here at Science-Based Medicine, this amorphous concept facilitates a convenient fluidity in delineating the parameters of CAM. Without a clear definition, CAM (and integrative medicine) proponents are able to rebrand plausible and evidence-based practices such as diet, exercise and relaxation as CAM, a tactic we at SBM call “bait and switch.” This results in inflation in the figures of CAM use (important because CAM is all about popularity) and claims that CAM “works.”

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Posted in: Chiropractic, Politics and Regulation

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Obamacare and CAM

Practitioners of so-called “complementary and alternative medicine” currently enjoy a certain measure of government largesse in the form of state laws mandating coverage of their services by private health insurance plans. The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (often referred to as the Affordable Care Act, or “ACA,” and sometimes as “Obamacare”) has the potential of putting a significant dent in this forced coverage of pseudoscientific health care.

All states require private health insurers to cover certain health care services by law. These mandates can be in the form of requirements that specific health care services or treatments be covered, that certain providers be covered, or that certain populations be covered.

Mandates are ubiquitous, inconsistent among states and costly. One insurance industry trade group calculates that there are currently 2,262 separate state mandates. Some are supported by clear evidence of benefit, such as immunizations and mammograms. Others, unfortunately, require coverage of “CAM” services, such as acupuncture and chiropractic. (In fact, acupuncture is typically not covered by small group plans unless required by state mandate.) Whether beneficial or not, all agree that these mandates increase premium costs to the consumer, most estimated to be from less than one percent to five percent of premiums, depending on the mandate. Chiropractic coverage, for example, can vary from state to state, from limiting the insured to a specific number of visits per year all the way to requiring chiropractors to be covered on par with medical doctors.

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Dept. of Education to Council on Chiropractic Education: “Straighten Up!”

Our last look at the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE), about 18 months ago, found the CCE deeply embroiled in a heated dispute among various chiropractic factions over new accreditation standards for chiropractic colleges. Today we offer an update on that situation.

Update: the CCE is deeply embroiled in a heated dispute among various chiropractic factions over new accreditation standards for chiropractic colleges.

As you may recall, the CCE, which accredits chiropractic colleges in the U.S., stood accused of removing the subluxation from its standards for accreditation, so that chiropractic students would no longer be required to learn how to “detect” and “correct” the putative vertebral subluxation. Of course, the chiropractic subluxation doesn’t exist, but we’ll get to that in a minute. This brouhaha was raised by the more traditional wing of the chiropractic community, called “straights,” whose practice (and livelihood) is based on convincing patients that their spines need “adjustments” to remove these subluxations under the threat of ill health should they be left unattended. The straights were also upset at the move by another faction of chiropractic seeking to rebrand chiropractors as primary care physicians who diagnose and treat a wide variety of diseases and conditions.

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