The Problem with Pain Centers

CURE, Fall 2007, Volume 6, Issue 5

Pain clinics combine a variety of therapeutic approaches to effectively help patients and lower health care costs, but don’t have much support from insurance companies.

Pain clinics or centers combining a variety of therapeutic approaches under one roof have a lot of support among pain experts. The problem is, they don’t have as much support among insurance companies.

The concept of interdisciplinary care for chronic pain evolved about 30 years ago and has been shown in multiple medical studies to be effective both in helping patients and in saving healthcare dollars, says psychologist and pain expert Robert Gatchel, PhD.

“Unfortunately, health care providers are very shortsighted. Upfront, the cost might be a little bit more expensive because you have multiple disciplines [practicing at the center], but long-term, year after year, they’re more cost-effective,” he says.

At the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, he sees many chronic pain patients who’ve had their health insurance policy canceled and have to get a new one just about every year.

Consequently, he says, the number of interdisciplinary pain centers has declined in the past decade. “They’re closing down left and right because of reimbursement issues; they can’t cover the overhead,” he says. “And that’s a real crisis.”

Gatchel predicts that eventually the federal government will be hit hard. The last of the baby boomers will turn 50 in about seven years, entering an age group where about one-fifth of people have a chronic pain issue. In the meantime, the eldest of the boomers will soon turn 65 and the government, through Medicare, will be their health insurance provider.