Lumbar fusion surgery for degenerative conditions is associated with significant resource and narcotic use 2 years postoperatively in the commercially insured: a medical and pharmacy claims study

David E. Mino, James E. Munterich, Liana D. Castel


Background: Chronic back pain is one of the costliest and most complex medical conditions to manage, involving physiological, psychological, mechanical, social, and environmental factors. An increasing trend of lumbar fusion (LF) surgery for chronic back pain continues despite conflicting evidence for pain relief or improved long-term outcomes. Our goal was to assess medical and pharmacy utilization (including continued use of pain medication) over a 2-year period among patients receiving LF to relieve back pain for degenerative conditions without instability.
Methods: We conducted a 2-year longitudinal cohort study of 1,422 commercially insured patients who received LF from January through September 2009, and who had continuous benefit eligibility through 2011. We assessed resource use among patients with ICD-9-CM diagnostic codes consistent with a degenerative condition, identified from Cigna’s national claim database (CPT codes 22612, 22630 and/or 22558). Patients with fracture, tumor, infection, spondylolisthesis, inflammatory arthritis, or deformity diagnostic codes were excluded.
Results: Over the 2 years following LF, 992 patients (70%) incurred $9.0 million in additional medical claims payments which averaged $9,383 per patient. These payments included pain management interventions and long term therapy services in 30% of patients. A subset of 850 patients (60%) also had pharmacy benefits and 829 (97.5%) received multiple pain-related classes of medication over the same period. The majority of patients continued on chronic narcotic use (62.5%), and 95% of patients on narcotics preoperatively continued narcotic utilization at two years. This pharmacy benefit subset incurred an additional $2.2 million for pain-related medications at an average cost of $2,600 per patient. Total average payment for patients with combined medical and pharmacy benefits was $12,283.
Conclusions: LF for patients with a degenerative lumbar diagnosis incurred significant resources postoperatively, and was followed by long-term pain and psychotropic medication utilization.