Back surgery can cost a great deal of money but the potential benefits in terms of quality of life, pain reduction, and the ability to resume normal activities can feel priceless. For patients rendered almost immobile with back pain, radiculopathy, and muscle weakness, back surgery may well be advised by a physician as a last resort after conventional methods have failed to provide lasting relief. The cost of surgery depends largely on the extent of the procedure being performed as minimally invasive surgeries, such as endoscopic back surgery, may be less expensive. Less invasive surgery can also be beneficial in reducing the length of the recovery period and allowing a patient to return to work faster thereby reducing care costs, medications, and beginning to earn a wage again.
With any surgery there are risks and back surgery is no different. Patients should be aware that surgery may not correct their problem(s), they may incur an infection or experience problematic bleeding, there is the possibility of spinal fluid leakage (dural leak), and, in rare cases, paralysis or death may occur. Back surgery costs with a failed surgery can leave patients and their families in worse shape both financially and physically. The possible risks of surgery may mean that patients continue with their conventional treatments and investigate other, alternative, therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, acupressure, physical therapy, or massage. Herbal and nutritional supplements can also provide relief from chronic inflammation and encourage healthy nerve function for some. In acute cases however, where loss of sensation, bladder control, or sudden weakness in the muscles occurs it can be essential to undergo back surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves in the spine. Permanent damage may otherwise occur. This type of surgery will usually be covered by health insurance policies but other, optional, back surgeries may only be covered in part, or not at all. There are ways to reduce the burden of back surgery costs when seeking surgery and patients are advised to investigate their options thoroughly, comparing prices between clinics and hospitals, before making a final decision.
Specific Back Surgery Costs
For more basic procedures such as decompression, or endoscopic back surgery, patients will usually pay around $6,000-8,000. Please keep in mind that these costs will vary depending on the clinic and your insurance provider. More complex procedures involving fusion can cost in the region of $15,000-17,000. Spondylodesis surgery can cost $12,000-15,000 and vertebroplasty around $2,500. A similar procedure to vertebroplasty (where bone cement is injected into fractured or compressed vertebrae) is considerably more expensive as it makes use of a balloon-like device to first restore the height of the vertebrae before injecting the bone cement. This procedure, called kyphoplasty, costs around $14,000 due the complexity and extended time of the operation, but may be deemed necessary if a patient’s vertebrae have become considerably compressed and are impinging on nerves or blood vessels in the spine.
If a patient does not have insurance then a laminectomy (a common procedure used in spinal stenosis treatment ) can cost between $50,000 and $90,000. Spinal fusion, for fractured vertebra or to increase spinal stability, can cost $80,000-150,000. If specialized techniques and implants, such as titanium fusion devices or X-Stop implant, are used then the cost may be even higher. Getting an accurate quote for the surgery is also vital as even procedures within a procedure, such as the removal of a patient’s own bones for transplantation/fusion during a spinal fusion operation can cost $3,000 or more.
Insurance for Back Surgery
These costs are, however, just for the surgery and patients should also account for the possible costs of receiving aftercare, medications, re-hospitalization (if deemed necessary due to infection or complications), and the loss of potential earnings whilst recuperating. Discussing available options, and their costs, with your physician and your insurance company may influence your decision to undergo back surgery. Insurance coverage for back surgery will vary by policy and provider so reading the small print and getting confirmation from your insurer is essential. Essential back surgery to prevent permanent nerve damage and paralysis is usually covered by health insurance plans and Medicare. For those patients with private health insurance the deductible will need to be met and then costs of around 10-40% of the procedure (or $200-2,000, or more in some cases) will also need to be paid.
Aftercare costs incurred with back surgery can include expenses such as the use of a brace (around $200), physical therapy sessions at $50-100 per session for ten or more sessions, and the cost of pain medications and walking aids (around $50-100). Some back surgeries are minimally invasive day-patient procedures and have a shorter recovery time of around two weeks. Other operations can take six weeks to six months to recover from and, depending on the severity of damage incurred prior to surgery, some patients may still be recovering and regrowing damaged nerves for eighteen months after their back surgery. If a patient works in a manual job or has considerable strain put on their back during their working hours then they may need to take extra time off work or change their responsibilities. This can curtail income and should be calculated into back surgery costs.
Ways to Reduce the Cost of Back Surgery
An attractive option for some patients is the opportunity to undergo back surgery at a teaching hospital in order to receive a discount on the cost of their procedure. Although patients may be wary of undergoing surgery with inexperienced students they should be aware that a qualified surgeon will be supervising any procedure they have and is there to step in should such action be necessary. The more complex surgeries may not be as available at teaching hospitals as more routine procedures.
Another way to cut the cost of back surgery is to be a self-paying customer at a private clinic where prepaying in full can garner a discounted fee for surgery. Additionally, many spinal clinics will have payment plans where payment can be deferred or made within a certain time period at relatively cost-effective rates. Shopping around may seem an odd concept when it comes to selecting a clinic for spinal surgery but it may just save you a substantial sum of money. In some cities the disparity between clinics in terms of cost for a laminotomy can range between $25,000 and $50,000 despite the exact same procedure being carried out at each clinic and with the same insurer covering the cost. Clearly it is difficult to assess the need for further scans and diagnostic tests, or the quantity or longevity of post-surgical medication, but there is an increasing call for more transparency from insurers and clinics regarding procedural costs.
The Cost of Not Having Back Surgery
The cost of not having back surgery can also be enormous as, if left untreated, spinal stenosis and nerve compression can result in permanent nerve damage with lifelong radiculopathy, muscle weakness, and resulting muscle atrophy. If there are signs of developing muscle weakness, loss of bladder or bowel control, or extreme persistent pain, then back surgery will usually be recommended in preference to the usual ‘wait-and-see’ approach using conventional pharmaceuticals and physical therapy. Ensuring that your physician knows all of your symptoms and understands your expectations regarding quality of life and activity levels is important to allow them to guide you through your options.
Chronic, debilitating, back pain can prevent you from enjoying life and achieving your goals both in terms of personal development and in your career. Certain jobs, such as manual labour and professional sports such as football, surfing, or ballet, are connected to the development of spinal problems. If you feel that your condition is associated with an unsafe work environment then you may be able to gain help covering the cost of your surgery from your employer. Those working in extremely cold environments without proper protective clothing are also increasingly likely to suffer from back pain and may find that changing jobs relieves symptoms enormously thereby removing the need for surgery. In many cases the short-term investment in the health of your back through surgery can lead to a healthier work-life balance, more energy, better relationships as your pain is relieved, and improved employment prospects as you are better able to cope with the stresses and strains of your chosen career.