Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions. This may include tumors, varicose veins, cardiac issues, or sleep apnea, but it is most commonly used is to treat chronic pain in certain parts of the body. Medicare benefits may be available to help pay for some of the costs associated with this procedure, so it’s important to understand how RFA works and why doctors may recommend its use.

How Radiofrequency Ablation Works

During radiofrequency ablation, a needle or catheter may be applied to the area targeted for treatment. This is connected to a device that sends an electrical current via radio waves through the needle or catheter and into the body. An ultrasound or X-ray is used to monitor the placement of each needle or catheter.

When used to treat chronic pain, radiofrequency ablation impacts the transmission of pain signals sent by nerve endings to the brain. The heat RFA produces interrupts these signals and decreases pain. This same technique can be used to destroy certain tumors or electrical pathways that are having a negative impact on cardiac function.

Skin lesions and varicose veins can also be treated with RFA’s low electrical current and the heat it emits. When used to treat sleep apnea or certain esophageal conditions, this procedure targets specific pieces of tissue in order to create wider openings for better breathing or swallowing.

In most cases, local anesthetics are used at the site of application, but mild sedatives or general anesthesia may be necessary for more invasive or prolonged procedures. The benefits of RFA treatment may be temporary in cases of pain management, so speak to your healthcare professional about how long you can expect those benefits to last.

Risks Associated with Radiofrequency Ablation

There are some complications associated with forms of radiofrequency ablation. When used to treat chronic pain, most patients will feel discomfort around the insertion site as the local anesthetic wears off. There may also be a small risk of bleeding, swelling and bruising.

The heat produced by the electrical current in radiofrequency ablation is very low, but when applied to certain soft tissues, as is the case for the nasal passage or esophagus, prolonged exposure may cause adverse reactions. Treatments that target skin lesions and varicose veins are at minimal risk for overexposure to heat because the local anesthetics applied beneath the skin in those areas absorb the heat.

If you are prone to developing infections from skin abrasions or bleeding excessively, let your healthcare professional know beforehand so they can help you assess your risk.

Medicare Coverage for Radiofrequency Ablation

Medicare recipients may get coverage for radiofrequency ablation if the procedure is deemed medically necessary by your physician. Medicare recipients may need to show that other treatments have failed before RFA is approved for coverage. If you receive this treatment for a covered medical condition while you are formally admitted as an inpatient in a hospital, Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) may help cover the cost of the procedure. If you get this treatment in a doctor’s office or in an outpatient setting, Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) will help cover the costs. You may be responsible for coinsurance or a copayment, and the deductible will apply.

If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you will have the same coverage as Original Medicare Part A and Part B, but you may have additional benefits that may reduce your out-of- pocket expenses. These plans vary in coverage and costs, so check with your plan to find your exact costs associated with radiofrequency ablation.

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