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Bob Carroll
Bob Carroll
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Why Is Lumbar Traction Not A Covered Medical Expense?

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Have you ever wondered exactly what is the reason behind your health insurance company’s limitations on coverage for a particular medical condition or type of medical treatment? For example, how does Aetna treat lumbar traction devices? What will be covered and why?

Aetna, like most insurance companies, has posted its Clinical Policy Bulletins on the internet. Here is part of what Aetna says online about the use of these devices:

Traction is a widely used treatment for low back pain and it is often provided in combination with other treatment modalities. Types of traction include mechanical traction, manual traction (unspecific or segmental traction), autotraction, gravity-dependent (“(anti-)gravity”) traction, pneumatic traction, continuous traction, and intermittent traction.

Aetna considers autotraction devices experimental and investigational because there is insufficient evidence to support its clinical value in treating low back pain or for other indications.

Aetna considers home pneumatic lumbar traction devices (e.g., Saunders Lumbar HomeTrac, Saunders STx, Orthotrac Pneumatic Vest) experimental and investigational because they have not been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for low back pain or other indications.

Several years ago I had two herniated lumbar discs which would have justified surgery. They were causing me significant pain and limitations. My physician (a neurologist) and physical therapist introduced me to lumbar traction which, after several months, eliminated the problem entirely. Maybe what I experienced was an unusually good result. Maybe I was the subject of an experiment. However, I remain pain free and have not required extensive low back surgery. My insurance company (not Aetna) provided coverage for lumbar traction. Apparently, this widely used treatment is not experimental in the opinion of all health insurance companies.