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Hippotherapy, also referred to as equine-assisted therapy, describes a treatment strategy that uses equine movement to engage sensory, neuromotor, and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes. Hippotherapy has been proposed as a type of therapy for patients with impaired walking or balance.
Patients with spastic cerebral palsy frequently have impaired walking ability due to hyperactive tendon reflexes, muscle hypertonias, and increased resistance to increasing velocity of muscle stretch. These abnormalities result in a lack of selective muscle control and poor equilibrium responses. Hippotherapy has been proposed as a technique to decrease the energy requirements and improve walking in patients with cerebral palsy. It is thought that the natural swaying motion of the horse induces a pelvic movement in the rider that simulates human ambulation. In addition, variations in the horse’s movements can also prompt natural equilibrium movements in the rider. Hippotherapy is also being evaluated in patients with multiple sclerosis and developmental disorders such as Down syndrome.
Hippotherapy is a therapeutic intervention that is typically conducted by a physical or occupational therapist and is aimed at improving impaired body function. Therapeutic horseback riding is typically conducted by riding instructors and is more frequently intended as social therapy. It is hoped that the multi-sensory environment may also be beneficial to children with profound social and communication deficits, such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. When considered together, hippotherapy and therapeutic riding are described as equine-assisted activities and therapies. This policy addresses equine-assisted activities that focus on improving physical functions such as balance and gait.
Simulated hippotherapy using a new device has been studied in European centers. Therapeutic interventions using such a device would be conducted in physical and occupational therapy settings and are outside the scope of this policy.
POLICYHippotherapy is considered investigational.
The coverage guidelines outlined in the Medical Policy Manual should not be used in lieu of the Member's specific benefit plan language.
Investigative is defined as the use of any treatment procedure, facility, equipment, drug, device, or supply not yet recognized as a generally accepted standard of good medical practice for the treatment of the condition being treated and; therefore, is not considered medically necessary. For the definition of Investigative, “generally accepted standards of medical practice” means standards that are based on credible scientific evidence published in peer-reviewed medical literature generally recognized by the relevant medical community, and physician specialty society recommendations, and the views of medical practitioners practicing in relevant clinical areas and any other relevant factors. In order for equipment, devices, drugs or supplies [i.e, technologies], to be considered not investigative, the technology must have final approval from the appropriate governmental bodies, and scientific evidence must permit conclusions concerning the effect of the technology on health outcomes, and the technology must improve the net health outcome, and the technology must be as beneficial as any established alternative and the improvement must be attainable outside the testing/investigational setting.
POLICY HISTORY7/21/2005: Approved by Medical Policy Advisory Committee (MPAC)
1/30/2008: Policy reviewed, no changes
04/27/2010: Policy description expanded regarding spastic cerebral palsy and autism. Policy statement unchanged.
04/20/2011: Policy reviewed; no changes.
12/13/2011: Policy reviewed; no changes.
02/20/2013: Policy reviewed; no changes.
03/10/2014: Policy reviewed; no changes.
12/05/2014: Policy reviewed; description updated regarding hippotherapy as a therapeutic intervention. Policy statement unchanged.
07/30/2015: Code Reference section updated for ICD-10.
04/22/2016: Policy description updated. Policy statement unchanged. Investigative definition updated in policy guidelines section.
05/27/2016: Policy number A.8.03.12 added.
SOURCE(S)Blue Cross Blue Shield Association policy # 8.03.12
CODE REFERENCEThis may not be a comprehensive list of procedure codes applicable to this policy.
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