The world of medical research is a dynamic and fascinating one. There are constantly new therapies, treatments, and technologies being developed, bringing hope to millions of people who are suffering from some kind of medical condition that impacts their daily life. One of these relatively new treatments that you may have come across in the news is stem cell therapy. This is a key avenue of exploration in the field of regenerative medicine, with the aim of helping the human body to heal itself in order to treat a wide variety of health conditions. Of course, if stem cell treatment is an option that you have been considering, one of the questions you probably have is whether or not it will be covered by your health insurance. This post will take a look at stem cell therapy in more detail, what kind of medical conditions it can be used to treat, and whether or not medical insurance will cover it.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are often called master cells, and, in essence, they are cells that have the unique ability to develop into many other types of cells. For example, they could become muscle cells, blood cells, bone cells, or brain cells. They can also divide into new stem cells or help to repair damaged cells. It’s easy to see why they have become such a hot field to research because the possibilities for using them to treat all sorts of diseases are vast.
There are several different types of stem cells, including:
- Embryonic stem cells – these come from human embryos after in-vitro fertilization and can become any different type of cell in the body.
- Adult stem cells – these come from developed organs and tissues in the bodies of children and adults. These don’t have as much potential to differentiate into different types of cells but are used by the body to repair and replace damaged tissue in the same area that they are found in.
- Induced pluripotent stem cells – these are adult stem cells that have been altered to have the ability to differentiate into all different types of specialized cells in a similar way to embryonic stem cells.
- Core blood stem cells – these are taken from the umbilical cord after childbirth and can be frozen for use in the future.
What is stem cell therapy?
Stem cell treatment is a type of regenerative medicine, which uses stem cells to promote the repair of damaged or diseased tissue within the body. These cells can be grown in a laboratory and then implanted into a patient, where they can then boost the body’s natural healing process. For example, this could be by dividing into new cells to replace the damaged ones. You can also have your own stem cells injected back into you in the place they are needed, which reduces the chance of your body rejecting them.
Another way that stem cells can be used to further science and medicine is by testing new drugs, providing a safe and effective alternative to animal testing. For instance, stem cells could be used to generate nerve cells which are, in turn, used to test a new drug intended to treat a nerve disease. Researchers could check the effects of the new drug on the cells, including whether or not it damaged them in any way.
What kind of medical conditions can stem cell therapy treat?
Although many avenues are still in the initial research phases, the hope is that stem cell therapy could be used to treat an almost limitless number of medical conditions. For example, if a patient has heart disease, then stem cells could be injected into the heart muscle to repair the damaged cells. Other possibilities include turning stem cells into those that produce insulin and transplanting them into people who suffer from type one diabetes.
Currently, some of the most common uses of stem cell therapies are to promote the growth of healthy blood cells in patients who suffer from certain types of cancer, blood disorders, and immune system disorders. Stem cells have also shown promise in treating neurological disorders. This includes degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, as well as strokes and spinal cord injuries. They can even be used for facial rejuvenation, reducing signs of aging such as wrinkles, sagging skin, and a dull complexion.
One area that is showing a lot of benefit from the use of stem cells in chronic pain treatment and treatment of musculoskeletal issues. For instance, this includes osteoarthritis, tendinitis, rotator cuff tears, and tennis elbow. What’s great about these treatments is that they are often minimally invasive and safer in comparison to surgeries such as joint replacements, as they simply involve injecting stem cells into the appropriate location within the body. The entire visit to the clinic could take just 90 minutes, and, over time, the cells can repair and regenerate the damaged tissue to bring pain relief, plus improve mobility and function. Recovery time after stem cell treatments also tends to be quick.
Does medical insurance cover stem cell therapy?
Due to the fact that stem cell therapy is still a relatively new area of medicine, it is not always covered by medical insurance. Whether or noet your stem cell treatment is covered will likely depend on the precise health insurance policy that you have, the specific medical condition you suffer from, and the exact type of therapy you are considering. It might be helpful to raise the issue with your insurance company and also your physician when getting medical advice to see what options are open to you. Bear in mind that even if the stem cell therapy itself is not covered, other aspects such as consultations or associated costs might be.
Medicare and stem cell therapy
If you have Medicare health insurance, then certain specific stem cell therapies which are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be covered. Most of these are hematopoietic stem cell transplants, which are treatments that promote the growth of healthy blood cells. These are used to help with certain conditions such as lymphomas, leukemia, and sickle cell disease. Medicare Part A may cover stem cell therapy you need as an inpatient at the hospital, whereas Medicare Part B may cover it as an outpatient procedure if a doctor declares that the treatment is medically necessary.
There are two types of stem cell transplants that Medicare covers. The first is allogeneic stem cell transplantation, which takes stem cells from a healthy donor and then infuses them into a patient intravenously. This may also involve taking some medicine to suppress the immune system, to reduce the chances of the body rejecting the foreign stem cells.
The second type is autologous stem cell transplantation, which uses your own stem cells that have previously been extracted and stored. Be sure to get an accurate estimate of the costs in advance, then speak to Medicare about how much they will cover so that you can make an informed decision.
Currently, Medicare does not cover stem cell therapy for the treatment of chronic pain and musculoskeletal injuries such as arthritis. Hopefully, this will change as more stem cell treatments become approved by the FDA.
Can everyone have stem cell therapy?
In general, stem cell treatments are very safe. They are minimally invasive and relatively painless, with a quick recovery time. Having said that, these therapies are not necessarily suitable for every person and every medical condition. For instance, pregnant women are advised not to have stem cell treatments, and those who have another medical condition (outside of the one they intend to have treated) will also need to get medical advice before going ahead with stem cell therapy.
After stem cell therapy
In order to maximize the chances of your stem cell treatment being successful, it is important to take care of your physical and mental health. The specific advice will, of course, vary depending on what medical condition you are being treated for, so it is important that you listen to your doctor and go to regular physician’s appointments.
In general, though, there are some great things that you can do. For instance, you need to make sure that you set aside time for self-care. Whether it’s reading a good book, watching a film, having a long bath, or walking along the beach, anything that makes you feel happy and relaxed is good for your well-being. Self-care also extends to the following:
- Getting regular exercise. This doesn’t have to be an intensive gym or running session; it could be anything from yoga and dance to long walks or martial arts.
- Take up a hobby that you love, or volunteer with a cause that’s meaningful to you. Having a purpose in our lives is key to longevity.
- Get seven or eight hours of sleep every night (try meditation or deep breathing exercises if you struggle to nod off at night).
- Drink plenty of water and avoid too much alcohol.
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat healthily. Try to avoid processed meat, salty foods, sugary snacks, and sodas. Instead, opt for fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
In addition, you need to make sure you are socializing. As we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness can have a very real and negative impact on both our mental and physical health, so keep in regular contact with friends and family.
These self-care tips can be really useful in the time after your stem cell therapy, so make sure to follow them carefully.