If you’re considering back surgery, check out this investigational study for a new device that can be implanted surgically to treat lumbar spinal stenosis.

Boulder Neurosurgical & Spine Associates is the only local practice participating in the national study. The practice includes five locations in hospitals and clinics in the Boulder Valley.

If you qualify to participate in the study and receive related back surgery, you could get all related care for free, said Alan Villavicencio, a doctor at the practice.

The study will gather information about how well the new device works once it’s implanted in patients’ spines.

Up to 90 percent of people in the United States will have significant low back pain at some time in their lives, according to national statistics available from Boulder Neurosurgical & Spine Associates. A patient with lumbar spinal stenosis has back and leg pain from the spinal canal narrowing and causing pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

The condition often afflicts people as they get older. An estimated 2.4 million people will be affected by the condition by 2021, as the national baby boomer population continues to age.

Villavicencio and his colleagues screened 50 candidates for the surgery in the past month, but chose just one person they felt could benefit, he said.

Other patients were prescribed exercises, medications and other treatments, Villavicencio said. Doctors typically operate on just 10 percent to 20 percent of patients with back trouble, he said.

More information is online at www.bnasurg.com/treatments-facet-replacement.php.


Insurance broker pessimism

There’s been a lot of talk about how the new national health-care reform law will affect patients.

What hasn’t been talked about too much is how the new law may affect folks in the insurance industry.

The Affordable Care Act was approved by Congress in 2010 and goes into effect in January. After that, individuals who do not have insurance can be penalized on their tax returns. Under the law, companies with fewer than 50 employees will not be penalized if they don’t offer health insurance, but they’ll receive tax credits if they do offer it. Companies with more than 50 employees face penalties if they don’t offer health insurance.

Forty-five percent of health-insurance brokers are worried they’ll have to exit the business once the law goes into effect, according to a new study of more than 300 brokers from Aflac Inc. (NYSE: AFL) insurance company in Columbus, Georgia. Another 51 percent say they’re only slightly or not at all confident about the future of the industry.

At Taggart Insurance in Boulder, workers remain committed to taking care of clients as best they can, said Denise Dougherty, director of employee benefits at Taggart & Associates Inc., doing business as Taggart Insurance.

Taggart offers health insurance to companies but not to individuals, Dougherty said.

The national survey also queried nearly 1,900 people who handle employee benefits for their companies and 5,300 workers.


Tax credit calculator

While we’re on the topic, the National Federation of Independent Business’ new Healthcare Calculator helps users estimate whether their businesses can benefit from new federal tax credits going into effect as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Close to 200 companies in the Boulder Valley belong to the NFIB, according to a spokesperson for the industry group. Even if you’re not a member, you can still use the online calculator at: http://nfib.com/creditcalculator.


Nextera offers alternative

Nextera Healthcare in Longmont offers a local alternative to more traditional health-insurance plans.

RevolutionaryHealthcare, doing business as Nextera Healthcare, is a membership program launched in 2011 by doctors Clint Flanagan and David Tusek. For a monthly fee, members receive as many doctor office visits as they need as well as consultations with providers at North Vista Medical Center, which has offices in Longmont and Firestone.

Monthly fees range from $99 per month for an individual to $179 per month for up to four individuals.

The company is growing rapidly, recently adding the employees of the town of Firestone to its membership roster. More information is online at www.nexterahealthcare.com.    

Beth Potter can be reached at 303-630-1944 or bpotter@bcbr.com.