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Medicare’s Refusal to Pay for Oxygen Makes Man Suffer

Oxygen inhalation is an effective treatment for debilitating cluster headaches. Why does Medicare decline to pay for oxygen?

Cluster headaches are diabolical. The pain is extreme, usually focused on one side of the head. During an attack, a person cannot usually do anything but suffer. These attacks recur repeatedly, which is why they are called cluster headaches. We cannot comprehend why an insurer, in this case Medicare, would decline to pay for oxygen. This is an effective treatment for cluster headaches that is not habit-forming and has no serious side effects.

The Suffering That Cluster Headaches Cause:

Q. My husband was diagnosed with cluster headaches in 1999, a few months after receiving a pacemaker. The first eight years he tried 31 different prescriptions and nothing worked.

Finally a doctor prescribed oxygen and it was such a relief. Until then, he was suffering three headaches a day for months on end. He also lived on Excedrin Migraine, around ten pills a day. Breathing oxygen provided relief within minutes.

He retired in March of 2015 and Medicare REFUSES to pay for oxygen for headaches. His cluster headaches are back.

A neurologist prescribed prednisone, but the effect is only temporary. They will come back as they always do. Unfortunately, Social Security does not stretch far enough for us to afford the oxygen on our own. He will have to go back to Excedrin again. My heart goes out to all who suffer these awful debilitating headaches.

Oxygen for Treating Cluster Headaches:

A. Oxygen inhalation is considered a first-line treatment for cluster headaches by the American Headache Society (Headache, July, 2016).  It is outrageous that Medicare does not cover this evidence-based treatment. Your husband’s doctor should appeal this unscientific decision, although it seems to be a systematic policy.

In the meantime, your husband should be cautious about consuming so much Excedrin Migraine. The makers of Excedrin Migraine warn people: “do not take more than 2 caplets in 24 hours unless directed by a doctor.”

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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