After Minnesota court ends dispute, access to spine surgery benefits now clearer

Sep 9 2011
After settling the argument between a worker’s compensation insurer and a medical provider, a Minnesota state court cleared the way for future employees to undergo spine surgery to receive an implantable pulse generator (IPG) unhindered by pricing disputes.

The case concerned Ronald Troyer, who injured his lower back while on the job and ultimately required an IPG spinal cord stimulator. Post-surgery, there was confusion about who had the right to decide what the procedure would cost.

Every year, an estimated 11,000 Americans injure their spinal cord, according to the Think First National Injury Prevention Program. Lifetime costs of even moderate loss of motor function are estimated at more than $480,000 for someone injured at 25 years old, and more than $350,000 for someone injured at 50. The costs are higher for paraplegics and quadriplegics.

In the interest of improving the quality of life for patients who have spinal cord injuries, scientists have made neural prostheses an active area of research and development. Bio-engineers are researching ways to use electronics to restore broken connections in the nervous system, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a branch of the National Institutes of Health. Some scientists are developing stimulators to implant near the sacral region in order to improve bowel and bladder control. One pilot project supported by NINDS tests the use of electrical stimulation of the spinal cord to allow paraplegics to use their legs.

Apart from restoring function, one area of focus for neural prostheses is pain management. Past studies have explored the use of surgically implanted spinal cord stimulators to control chronic back pain.

After the case before the Minnesota court, known as Ronald E. Troyer vs. Vertlu Management Co., Kok & Lundberg Funeral Homes and State Auto Insurance Co., there should no longer be any confusion about who has the right to mark the price of these medical devices, and eligible patients with spinal cord injuries should have easier access to treatment.