Recently, the Center for Medicare Services announced that it will no longer cover TENS unit therapy. Tens unit, which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, is a low-cost and low-risk therapy for alleviating pain.
The memo that was released by CMS stated “tens is not reasonable and necessary for the
treatment of chronic low back pain,”. In addition, the memo stated that tens units will only be reimbursed when the patient is part of a randomized, controlled trial looking at the effectiveness of the treatment.
The units are about the size of an iPod and patients can wear them on their belt. The units emit slight electrical impulses to go through foam pads on the skin for the purpose of providing a low risk method of relieving many types of pain. While it has been known for some time that the effectiveness of tens units has been inconclusive, the report a couple years ago from the American Academy of Neurology found the treatment not to be effective.
Interestingly, when most Arizona pain doctors and chiropractors are interviewed they say that their patients get great results from using TENS units. There are plenty of anecdotes of patients seeing excellent results from tens units, for instance at pain management Scottsdale clinics. However, CMS based its decision on formal clinical studies to draw its conclusion.
The issue with tens units are that they have not worked exceptionally well in larger studies. And unfortunately that is what CMS is looking at in this cost-saving mechanism by cutting the coverage.
When you consider how big of a problem opioid overdosing is these days, any type of low-cost and low risk device that can reduce the need for narcotic pain medications should be kept in place. In fact, it appears that further research studies should have been conducted prior to this decision being put forward.
An online petition while CMS was considering the move collected over 10,000 signatures asking for coverage to be continued. the decision to simply rely on research studies which may in fact have some bias and other flaws discounts significant judgment of medical providers and a considerable amount of positive patient experiences.
It is an ironic outcome against a low risk technology that has in fact shown benefit to many patients in a time of need. Reducing the need for narcotics in acute flareups of low back pain is what TENS units are very good for and now the cost for these will fall on the patient. Thankfully over the last decade the cost of TENS units for the patient has dropped a considerable amount. Most tens units can be obtained at cost of less than $100.
For a patient who wants a fast acting answer to their pain with no potential for addiction and minimal sedation, TENS units are great.
The end result is not a ban on TENS units thankfully, but a shifting of the cost of tens unit treatment for the patient. Private insurance companies for the moment will still be able to pay for tens units if it is part of a person’s coverage. If you lived in Arizona and suffer from chronic pain or acute pain such as sciatica or your “back gave out”, Arizona Pain Specialists can help you.
These AZ pain clinics have locations all over the valley serving Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale, Chandler, Mesa, Tempe, Ahwatukee, Queen Creek, Surprise, Goodyear, Peoria and more.