Sheehan

The pain moved to my purse

Staff WriterFebruary 22, 2007 

Walk into almost any neck, back or spine clinic in North Carolina and you will be astounded by the array of troubles chiropractors say they can fix -- ailments from allergies to injuries.

But if you think the chiropractors are good at ironing out the kinks in your neck and realigning your back, you should see how a few of them were able to manipulate the legislature.

Call it the Jim Black twist.

A change in state law slipped into the budget by the former House speaker made it just as cheap to go to a chiropractor as to your family doctor. It had an immediate effect.

At Blue Cross Blue Shield alone, chiropractic visits increased 25 percent in the space of 10 months last year.

This is, of course, the law that happened to roll through the legislature after Black took a $29,000 "gratuity" from three chiropractors -- two of whom were members of the N.C. Board of Chiropractic Examiners -- and pocketed the cash.

Did I mention that North Carolina is the first and only state to make the co-payments equal for doctors and chiropractors?

By all accounts, Black's fellow lawmakers were stunned when he admitted swapping influence for cash. They didn't think such an experienced pol would be foolish enough, or arrogant enough, to take money for his own use.

In all the chatter about Black, it's easy to forget that the impact of his misdeeds reaches well beyond the federal courthouse and the insular political world on Jones Street.

The effects of the law's change were good or bad, depending on whether you visit a chiropractor regularly.

For one thing, the lower copayment put chiropractic services within reach of more people in pain.

To those who think chiropractic services are little more than expensive back rubs, the law looks like an unnecessary boost for unnecessary procedures.

To others, greater access to chiropractic services has been quite simply a godsend.

All the "adjusting," though, has come at a real price that many of us -- chiropractic fans or not -- are paying in our monthly premiums.

When the chiropractic co-payment was lowered, Blue Cross Blue Shield was so concerned about its impact that it amended its proposed average rate increase for individuals in 2006 from 9.87 percent up to 10.12 percent.

"We were predicting that the lower co-payments would drive more customers [to the chiropractors]" said Lew Borman, a spokesman for the insurer.

Did that prediction come true?

"Yes."

At this point, he said, Blue Cross estimates the cost of the chiropractic co-pay at $8 million for individuals and small groups. That's for 10 months.

Not a bad return on a $29,000 "gratuity." Even if it ends up being short-lived.

The talk on Jones Street is that the chiropractic provision will get a serious second look this spring. (At which point, chiropractic co-pays may shoot up again.)

So if you're feeling a little creaky, this is your moment to head in for a tuneup.

Just ask Jim Black. Contact with the right chiropractors can make you extremely flexible.

Visit Ruth's Metro blog at blogs.newsobserver.com or contact her at 829-4828 or rsheehan@newsobserver.com.

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