Patient Willingness to Pay for Reductions in Chronic Low Back Pain and Chronic Neck Pain

Published in: The Journal of Pain (2019). doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2019.05.002

Posted on RAND.org on June 10, 2019

by Patricia M. Herman, Jill E. Luoto, Mallika Kommareddi, Melony E. Sorbero, Ian D. Coulter

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Many recommended nonpharmacologic therapies for patients with chronic spinal pain require visits to providers such as acupuncturists and chiropractors. Little information is available to inform third-party payers' coverage policies regarding ongoing use of these therapies. This study offers contingent valuation-based estimates of patient willingness to pay (WTP) for pain reductions from a large (n = 1,583) sample of patients using ongoing chiropractic care to manage their chronic low back and neck pain. Average WTP estimates were $45.98 (45.8) per month per 1-point reduction in current pain for chronic low back pain and $37.32 (38.0) for chronic neck pain. These estimates met a variety of validity checks including that individuals' values define a downward-sloping demand curve for these services. Comparing these WTP estimates with patients' actual use of chiropractic care over the next 3 months indicates that these patients are likely "buying" perceived pain reductions from what they believe their pain would have been if they didn't see their chiropractor-that is, they value maintenance of their current mild pain levels. These results provide some evidence for copay levels and their relationship to patient demand, but call into question ongoing coverage policies that require the documentation of continued improvement or of experienced clinical deterioration with treatment withdrawal.

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