Adam Rubenfire has written a very persuasive and informative article on the challenges of modern medical technology, such as exoskeleton technology, to be covered by insurance companies in the U.S. The article was published on Modern Healthcare, November 26th, 2016 and can be found on their website. The same article is also posted on their sister site Crain’s.
Things to look out for while reading Adam’s article:
The Modern Healthcare article doesn’t present any new information, but it focuses on the challenges of getting insurance coverage for a new technology, including exoskeletons. The price of home/personal use exoskeletons is simply out of reach for the majority of the population. The only real path to mass commercialization for this subfield of the exoskeleton industry is insurance coverage. This is why building a case for exoskeletons for personal use is of paramount importance.
If you believe the cost of an exoskeleton is outlandish, consider that after 10 years in a wheelchair the medical and hospital readmission costs begin to skyrocket. This is caused by secondary effects of not moving and walking. It is not proven yet, but the reduction of long-term medical costs for people suffering from paralysis can easily offset the cost of a home use exo. (And spinal cord injury is just one example of medical exoskeletons). The key issue here is the “long term component.” Companies want insurance coverage now, while insurance companies are not that eager to invest.
“Why can’t device makers and insurers get along?” focuses on the U.S. insurance market. The dynamics in the other major exoskeleton markets such as Germany, Japan, and China are quite different. Germany has no major medical exoskeleton research of its own but has been very friendly to testing exoskeletons from all over the world. Germany is the only country where you can find all mobile gait rehabilitation exoskeletons being aggressively marketed.
In Japan, the emphasis has been on exoskeletons for workers, but the companies with a medical focus, such as CYBERDYNE, have gone directly after politicians to hasten the coverage of exoskeletons by local insurance agencies. In China, the government is taking a very proactive role. There are increasing numbers of reports on the Chinese government funding medical exoskeleton research and initial deployment.