What is the value of walking? More specifically, what is the value of walking for a paraplegic? That may have been the question on the mind of some attendees of the IAIABC Spring Forum in Kansas City, MO this week. The organization’s Medical Issues Committee gave a presentation that puts that question at the forefront of disability accommodation within the workers’ compensation community.
ReWalk, an Israeli based company, has developed a functional exoskeleton that provides some paraplegics the ability to once again stand tall and walk unimpeded. This is not experimental technology still on the drawing boards. It is in the marketplace and in use in at least 90 deployments. Additionally, the Veterans Administration has approved payment for all military veterans who physically qualify for the device – potentially 40,000 people.
It was an emotional session, as they brought a man who has been using the system since 2014. Jhoni Hernandez was hit by a train in 2009. It dragged him over forty feet, and did serious damage to his spine. He was completely paralyzed from the waist down. He told a heartwarming story to the audience, about how his children reacted to his height while standing, and how much he loved being able to walk once more.
The video below is but a brief glimpse of the demonstration we saw. It is extremely important to note that this was the very first time Jhoni had walked on carpet since before his accident.
The batteries that power this mobility last about 3 ½ hours, with a recharge time of about 8 hours. The unit is designed to last about 5 years.
The cost, including a two-year warranty, is estimated to be around an attention getting $110,000.
I know that price is high, but the power of the moment was captured by a state regulator who was sitting next to me. He leaned over and whispered, “How do you put a price on the ability to walk again?” I must admit, he was right. As we listened to Jhoni’s story of a vastly restored life, and watched his ability to navigate a room, it was hard to envision denying that man the benefits of such a device.
I believe the key to success for such a unit will be the economies of scale associated with wide industry reception for such a product, while insisting that the company push for a longer product life then currently anticipated. It is still, after all, a new technology with limited distribution. The larger potential of greater utilization will lower the price of this product.
But we first must commit to accepting and using this type of solution.
One thing that must be noted is a proven reduction of pain management drugs and other related medicines associated with the paralyzed who use this product. Regularity is generally restored with movement, and pain perception takes a notable drop. The costs of this device may potentially be partially offset by reduced pharmacy spends; but we will not know if we do not try the technology.
I can’t tell you whether the industry will embrace these tools for injured workers who are suddenly paralyzed by a workplace accident. I do know that we must address and answer the question, “What price do we place on the ability to walk again?”