UnitedHealthcare clarifies spinal manipulation policy following pressure from chiropractors

UnitedHealth clarified its manipulative therapy coverage policy to remove several references indicating it was not medically necessary. (Getty/ChesiireCat)

Responding to pressure from chiropractors, UnitedHealthcare has revised its coverage policy for spinal manipulation to treat patients with severe headaches.

A week after the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) criticized the insurer for stopping coverage of spinal manipulation therapy (SMT), UnitedHealthcare updated its coverage rationale (PDF) to include the treatment, removing language that indicated manipulative therapy was unproven or not medically necessary for preventative or maintenance care.  

In a statement, the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) said it confirmed UnitedHealthcare changed its policy following pushback from the organization and more than 40 state associations.

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“We appreciate that UHC weighed the evidence in support of manipulative therapy for headache that ACA provided in its July 23 letter to UHC President Dan Schumacher, and made the determination that patients should have access to this effective, nondrug treatment option,” ACA President N. Ray Tuck Jr. said in a statement.

In that July letter, Tuck said he was “astounded” to learn UnitedHealthcare would no longer cover SMT for patients with migraines and severe headaches. Tuck said the ACA planned to assist patients in challenging the insurer’s policy under the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

RELATED: Chiropractors blast UnitedHealthcare’s ‘fundamentally flawed’ policy shift on spinal manipulation

UnitedHealthcare, for its part, said its members never lost coverage of manipulative therapy for headaches.

"We appreciated the questions raised by the American Chiropractic Association, and we are happy to clarify that UnitedHealthcare members maintained their coverage of manipulative treatment for headaches throughout these policy updates," UnitedHealth spokesperson Matt Rodriquez said in a statement. 

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