While You Were Treating: Getting Paid for the Treatment of Headaches? What You NEED to Know.

While You Were Treating: Getting Paid for the Treatment of Headaches? What You NEED to Know.

In June 2018, unbeknownst to most of the chiropractic profession, United Healthcare® announced in their monthly update a policy change that would have cost the profession millions of dollars a month in lost reimbursements. The policy updated its widening “experimental and investigational services” category, which are non-covered services. The updated policy listed Manipulative Therapy as “unproven and/or not medically necessary” for the treatment of some. What it also listed that would have a significant impact on the profession was Neurological (e.g., headaches). The direct reference by United Healthcare® to headaches would have made manipulative therapy unpayable, or, in the case of chiropractors who are in-network, uncollectible, as these charges would be written off.

In the U.S., more than 38 million people suffer from migraines. Some migraine studies estimate that 13 percent of adults in the U.S. population have migraines, and 2-3 million migraine sufferers are chronic (Miles, 2010). “Research shows that spinal manipulation, one of the primary treatments provided by doctors of chiropractic, may be an effective treatment option for tension headaches and headaches that originate in the neck. A 2014 report in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT) found that interventions commonly used in chiropractic care, improved outcomes for the treatment of acute and chronic neck pain and an increased benefit was shown in several instances where a multimodal approach to neck pain had been used. A 2011 JMPT study found that chiropractic care, including spinal manipulation, improves migraine and cervicogenic headaches.” (American Chiropractic Association, 2016)


Today, we as healthcare consumers, just like our patients, are feeling the “squeeze” as insurance companies continue to reduce what is covered by insurance and what becomes the financial responsibility of the patient. It should come as no surprise that United Healthcare® announced in January 2018 that their revenue for 2017 surpassed the $200 billion mark for the first time. In January 2019, United Healthcare® reported that its 2018 revenue reached $226 billion, a 12% increase over the previous year (Business Wire, 2019). As a business owner, I firmly believe in running a profitable business. However, I strive to make decisions that benefit the patients and providers I serve, my employees, and finally myself and my business. I ask myself if we’re doing the right things, for the right reasons, in the right ways. Every company has the right to be profitable, even into the billions, but not at the risk of hurting the patients they serve.

Within days of this announcement, Dr. Jay Greenstein, Chairman of the Clinical Compass (formerly Council on Chiropractic Guidelines & Practice Parameters, CCGPP), received an email asking him to look into the United Healthcare change in coverage for spinal manipulation and neurological conditions, including headache. After verifying that the information was accurate, he mobilized the Chiropractic Congress (formerly Congress of Chiropractic State Association, COCSA), the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), the American Black Chiropractic Association (ABCA), and many others, in fighting back. What would have taken years and possibly legislative action in the past was resolved in under a month. In a letter to United Healthcare®’s Dan Schumacher, American Chiropractic Association (ACA) President N. Ray Tuck Jr. said he was “astounded” to find out the insurer would no longer cover chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) for patients with migraines and severe headaches. The letter addressed the decision by United Healthcare® to label the treatment “unproven and/or not medically necessary” and included eight studies, over eight years, that proved that is not the case. On August 13, 2018, the ACA announced that they had received confirmation from United Healthcare® that it had restored its policy in support of coverage for non-drug manipulative therapy for headache treatment. The change was posted online as a revised policy document, dated August 1, 2018 (American Chiropractic Association, 2018).

For many years, like many of you, I viewed “guidelines” as a negative, however, I am now singing a different tune. This, and many other battles, have been fought and won because of the existence of these guidelines and the research that supports them. The mission of the Clinical Compass (CCGPP) is to gather and evaluate existing evidence‐based practice information, to facilitate the development of new information where existing evidence is lacking, and to distribute and assist in the implementation of evidence‐based practice information that is relevant to the chiropractic profession. For over twenty years, many have taken several hours each day away from their practices and their patients to work for the advancement of our profession. They are the unsung heroes of chiropractic. As one board member, Dr. Greg Baker (Georgia), said, “Research is a great weapon.” As the situation with United Healthcare® shows, he couldn’t be more right. Take a minute to thank the men and women below for helping to fight and win the battles that many are not even aware of, so that we can continue to treat our patients and support our communities.

To hear how our profession came together to fight and win the battle with United Healthcare, watch the video below.

Clinical Compass Board Members:

Jay S. Greenstein, DC, CCSP, CCFI-L1, CKTP, FMS – Chairman
James R. McDaniel, DC – Vice Chairman
Louis Crivelli Jr., DC – Secretary
Jeffrey J. Askew, DC – Treasurer
Gregory A. Baker, DC – Past Chair & COCSA At Large
Wayne Whalen, DC, FIACN, FICC – Chairman Emeriti’s
Cheryl Hawk, DC, PhD – Commission
Claire Johnson, DC, MSEd, DACBSP, FICC – Commission
Amy Minkalis, DC – Commission
Brad Russell, DC – ACA Representative
David S. O’Bryon, CAE, JD – ACA Representative
Janet Jordan, CAE – Administrator
Scott Mooring, DC, CCSP – COCSA DISTRICT 2
William Doggett, DC – COCSA DISTRICT 4
David Paris, DC – COCSA DISTRICT 5
Ray Foxworth, DC, FICC, MCS-P – Contributor/Representative

About Author

Ray Foxworth, DC, FICC, MCS-P

Dr. Ray Foxworth is a certified Medical Compliance Specialist and President of ChiroHealthUSA. A practicing Chiropractor, he remains “in the trenches” facing challenges with billing, coding, documentation and compliance. He has served as president of the Mississippi Chiropractic Association, former Staff Chiropractor at the G.V. Sonny Montgomery VA Medical Center and is a Fellow of the International College of Chiropractic. You can contact Dr. Foxworth at 1-888-719-9990, info@chirohealthusa.com or visit the ChiroHealthUSA website at www.chirohealthusa.com. Join us for a free webinar that will give you all the details about how a DMPO can help you practice with more peace of mind.

Go to www.chirohealthusa.com to register today.

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