Use of Hyperbaric Therapy Increasing, Especially Among Diabetic Patients

HealthDay News — Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is increasingly being used, especially for those with diabetes, although the American Diabetes Association does not recommend the treatment, according to a report published by Kaiser Health News.

Nearly 1,300 U.S. hospitals have installed hyperbaric facilities, perhaps because of generous Medicare payments and for-profit management companies that do much of the work. Hyperbaric therapy is increasingly given to patients with diabetes, especially elderly patients with persistent wounds.

The treatment is not recommended by the American Diabetes Association; some experts say use of hyperbaric therapy for diabetic wounds has increased because of pursuit of Medicare revenue rather than the treatment’s proven value. Medicare approved hyperbaric therapy for certain diabetic wounds that do not respond to conventional treatments in 2002. The cost of installing a hyperbaric chamber unit with 2 chambers is about $500,000. However, because of Medicare’s lucrative reimbursement policies, hospitals can generate cash very quickly. As the business model is so compelling, management companies typically pay for the equipment and staff, while hospitals provide space for the chamber, make patient referrals, and deal with billing. Revenue from the insurers is split between the companies and the hospitals. 

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“In 2015, Medicare imposed stricter billing procedures in three states where its expenses for hyperbaric services were 21 percent above the national average – possible evidence of overuse or overbilling,” according to the report. “Elsewhere, Medicare requires documentation supporting hyperbaric therapy’s need only after services begin.”

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