New Asthma Treatment Successful but Costly


"Your asthma will not be cured," said Khatri, who said that research is still under way regarding the procedure. "All of these [procedures] are nice and good, and hopefully we'll find more benefits in the longer term, but you'll still need to be on your asthma medications."

Dr. Michael Simoff, director of bronchoscopy and interventional pulmonology at Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan, has had 30 to 40 patients referred to him over the past six months for the procedure. He's had to turn many patients away because insurance will not pay for the treatment and the patients can't afford it.

"It puts us in a difficult situation," said Simoff. "My hands are tied, because we see people, we evaluate them and see that they're good candidates, but they don't fill the criteria to be in a study."

Simoff has petitioned many insurance companies in Michigan to review their policy, but it's been slow-going, he said.

In January 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services agreed to pay for the disposable catheters used during bronchial thermoplasty. The procedure requires three bronchoscopies using three catheters that cost around $1,000 to $2,500 each.

"I do think it will become a mainstream procedure in the long run," said Simoff. "I really believe that when we move forward, the patients will need less medication." Many who believe in bronchial thermoplasty, including Simoff, said insurance coverage would not only benefit the patient but would save insurance companies money in long run.

"I'm saving so much money not having to pay for monthly medications that were mostly covered by health insurance," said McLeland. "The overall cost coverage for insurance companies of that and the emergency room visits makes it beneficial."

"Asthma care is one of the most common and costly chronic conditions for insurers," said Mike Tringale, vice president of external affairs at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "This new procedure for severe asthma is an important breakthrough for patients, especially for a disease like asthma, where there has not been much change in the therapy options for a decade.

Even with the current out of pocket costs, many patients find the relief from their asthma worth it.

"Day to day life is affected when you can't breathe well," said Khatri. "Whenever a patient is able to afford it, if they believe in it strongly enough, they're willing to pay."

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