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Alternative therapies: Florida program similar to Colorado pilot saved money, improved health

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Colorado has a new Medicaid pilot program that will cover the cost of acupuncture, massage therapy and chiropractic services for 67 people with spinal cord injuries. As explained in our feature story, "Body Movin'," the program's chief architect is a determined thirty-year-old named Chanda Hinton Leichtle, who was paralyzed by a bullet at age nine. In crafting Colorado's pilot, Hinton Leichtle looked to other states for guidance. But there wasn't much out there.

The one exception was a now-defunct program in Florida that started in 2004. The man behind it is Adrian Langford, the vice president of a company called Alternative Medicine Integration. Known as the MediPass Integrative Therapies Pilot Program, it was approved by Florida lawmakers in 2002 as a way to test whether acupuncture, massage, nutritional counseling and other alternative health care services would improve outcomes for people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic back or neck pain and Fibromyalgia. AMI was contracted to run the program.

The results were impressive. According to an analysis by consulting firm Health Management Associates, enrolled patients reported a 16 percent increase in mental function in the first year and a 20 percent increase in physical function. AMI also kept track of patients' Medicaid claims and found that those enrolled in the pilot program were spending less money than a control group. Costs for enrolled patients decreased an average of 9 percent per month while costs for those not enrolled increased 15 percent.

Patient satisfaction was high, as well. A January 2011 report shows that 94 percent of survey respondents said alternative therapies reduced their level of pain and 89 percent said their daily lives had improved since starting the program.

"This unique Florida Medicaid pilot project has revealed the potential benefits of implementing integrative care approaches for low-income and high-utilizing Medicaid populations," the analysis says. But last year, Langford says, funding for the pilot program was cut out of the state budget, bringing the seven-year experiment to a halt.

Langford hasn't given up, however. In May, he helped start a new Medicaid program in Rhode Island for disenfranchised patients, many of whom have significant behavioral health issues. The program will offer them several alternative therapies.

Colorado's program -- which is the only other alternative therapies pilot of which Langford is aware -- also gives him hope, he says. Hinton Leichtle, he says, "is a warrior."

More from our News archive: "Photos: Chanda Hinton Leichtle is out to change how Medicaid treats spinal cord injuries."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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