Pilot program offers hope for spinal injuries

Acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care offered


A 67-patient pilot program in Colorado has a chance to change the health-care landscape in America, specifically for those suffering from severe spinal cord injuries.

Based out of Progressive Health Center, on the campus of Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, the program exists because of the hard work of Chanda Hinton Leichtle, 30, who has spent the past 21 years as a quadriplegic.

Shot in the back of the neck accidentally when she was just 9 years old, Hinton Leichtle spent much of her life on a heavy diet of pharmaceuticals. At one point she was on as many as four high-dose painkillers a day. Since she began integrating alternative treatments nine years ago, everything has changed.

Hinton Leichtle discovered not only the physical and emotional benefits but the financial impact as well. The only problem was, despite her newfound treatments — acupuncture, massage and chiropractic — being preventive and more cost-efficient, Medicaid did not cover them.

Her response? She launched a nonprofit, the Chanda Plan Foundation, which operates on a $250,000 annual budget and helps about 20 individuals cover the costs of their alternative therapies per year. But that wasn’t enough, and she knew it. So, with the help of state Sen. Suzanne Williams and state Rep. Nancy Todd of Aurora, Hinton Leichtle took her fight to the state Legislature, which has approved Medicaid funding for the experimental program in Colorado.

If successful in Colorado, Hinton Leichtle said they plan to fight to pass similar legislature through three other states and then take it to the federal level.

“We need to show that people all over the nation can have an increased quality of life, and that these treatments are cost-effective and can save a lot of money,” she said. “I’m no longer taking narcotics. I’m working full-time, contributing to society and I’m able to exercise now, go rock climbing, hand cycle.”

The program is set up to last for two and a half years, which, as Hinton Leichtle points out, allows people to really see the benefits of alternative treatments without having to give up on them after two months because they can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs.

“I think we all realize that things need to shift, and this is one of those ways that we can start shifting,” said Jan Ruscio, an acupuncturist from Highlands Ranch who will see program patients at Progressive. “We could really all start saving money as a nation by using less pharmaceuticals and having less doctor visits.”

The pilot program is limited to spinal cord patients who are residents of Douglas, Arapahoe, Denver, Adams or Jefferson counties. To find out more about the waiver program and whether you may be eligible click here, or contact Sarah Hoerle (sarah.hoerle@state.co.us) with the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing at 303-866-2669.


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