Nonoperative care to manage sacroiliac joint disruption and degenerative sacroiliitis: high costs and medical resource utilization in the United States Medicare population

Stacey J Ackerman, David W Polly, Tyler Knight, Tim Holt, John Cummings
Journal of Neurosurgery. Spine 2014, 20 (4): 354-63

OBJECT: Low-back pain (LBP) is highly prevalent among older adults, and the cost to treat the US Medicare population is substantial. Recent US health care reform legislation focuses on improving quality of care and reducing costs. The sacroiliac (SI) joint is a recognized generator of LBP, but treatments traditionally have included either nonoperative medical management or open SI joint fusion, which has a high rate of complications. New minimally invasive technologies have been developed to treat SI joint disruption and degenerative sacroiliitis, so it is important to understand the current cost impact of nonoperative care to the Medicare program. The objective of this study was to evaluate the medical resource use and associated Medicare reimbursement for patients managed with nonoperative care for degenerative sacroiliitis/SI joint disruption.

METHODS: A retrospective study was conducted using claim-level data from the Medicare 5% Standard Analytical Files (SAFs) for the years 2005-2010. Included were patients with a primary ICD-9-CM (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification) diagnosis code for degenerative sacroiliitis/SI joint disruption (ICD-9-CM diagnosis codes 720.2, 724.6, 739.4, 846.9, or 847.3) with continuous enrollment for at least 1 year before and 5 years after diagnosis. Claims attributable to degenerative sacroiliitis/SI joint disruption were identified using ICD-9-CM diagnosis codes (claims with a primary or secondary ICD-9-CM diagnosis code of 71x.xx, 72x.xx, 73x.xx, or 84x.xx), and the 5-year medical resource use and Medicare reimbursement (in 2012 US dollars) were tabulated across practice settings. A subgroup analysis was performed among patients who underwent lumbar spinal fusion.

RESULTS: Among all Medicare patients with degenerative sacroiliitis or SI joint disruption (n = 14,552), the mean cumulative 5-year direct medical costs attributable to degenerative sacroiliitis/SI joint disruption was $18,527 ± $28,285 (± SD) per patient. The cumulative 5-year cost was $63,913 ± $46,870 per patient among the subgroup of patients who underwent lumbar spinal fusion (n = 538 [3.7%]) and $16,769 ± $25,753 per patient among the subgroup of patients who had not undergone lumbar spinal fusion (n = 14,014 [96.3%]). For the total population, the largest proportion of cumulative 5-year costs was due to inpatient hospitalization (42.1%), outpatient physician office (20.6%), and hospital outpatient costs (14.9%). The estimated cumulative 5-year Medicare reimbursement across practice settings attributable to SI joint disruption or degenerative sacroiliitis is approximately $270 million among these 14,552 Medicare beneficiaries ($18,527 per patient).

CONCLUSIONS: In patients who suffer from LBP due to SI joint disruption or degenerative sacroiliitis, this retrospective Medicare claims data analysis demonstrates that nonoperative care is associated with substantial costs and medical resource utilization. The economic burden of SI joint disruption and degenerative sacroiliitis among Medicare beneficiaries in the US is substantial and highlights the need for more cost-effective therapies to treat this condition and reduce health care expenditures.

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