If you’ve lost a limb, getting a prosthesis is likely at the top of your to-do list. Luckily, there’s a wide range of arm, hand, and upper limb prosthetics on the market at an even wider range of price points.
The latter aspect creates the largest hurdle for amputees as not all provincial plans cover prosthetics, and those that do either don’t provide full coverage or have coverage maximums too low to fully cover the cost.
Let’s explore the process of preparing for a prosthetic, various types of upper limb prosthetics, their costs, and funding options in Canada.
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Getting an Arm Prosthetic: The Recovery Process
During recovery, your care provider will focus on shaping, conditioning, and preparing your residual limb for rehabilitation. That involves proper positioning of the residual limb, the application of compression to promote blood circulation, and caring for the skin around the amputation site.
Once your wound is healed, you’ll be given a post-amputation assessment to determine the best treatment options. In some cases, patients are given interim prosthesis to make the recovery process and rehabilitation easier.
Ideally, prosthetic treatment should start within two weeks or months after surgery, depending on how long recovery takes.
Types of Arm and Hand Prosthetic Devices
The type of prosthetic you need depends on various factors, such as the amputation level and your lifestyle.
Passive Prosthetic Limbs
Passive prostheses generally have a lifelike appearance and can restore the function of the residual limb to some degree. Materials for the manufacturing of passive prostheses include silicone and PVC. The latter is a low-cost alternative to silicone, and care providers often recommend PVC prostheses as an interim solution.
High-definition silicone is among the most popular options, as it is possible to reproduce the patient’s natural skin tone. 3D-printed prosthetics are the latest additions to this prosthesis world, and they offer various advantages in terms of cost, manufacturing speed, and customization. For example, a 3D-printed arm can be designed to be the same weight as the other arm.
Body-powered prosthetics typically feature a hook or prosthetic hand that uses a system of harnesses and cables to open and close. The wearer pulls against the cable attachment by pushing out their arm or elbow to open the hook or prosthetic hand. The cable will then pull the hook open, allowing the wearer to carry out various actions.
Most body-powered prosthetics have hooks with bands that keep them closed, but they are also compatible with prosthetic hands that work with the same mechanism.
A myoelectric prosthesis uses an external source of electric power, which means you don’t drive it using muscle power and physical leverage. This modern type of prosthesis implements a biochemical process to generate electric signals with a micro-voltage. The wearer creates the electric tension through muscle contraction in the residual limb, which the prosthesis measures through the skin.
In comparison with body-powered prosthetics, myoelectric arms provide optimal motion range, comfort, and functionality. Myoelectric arms also have a low susceptibility to wear and tear, and they have a more realistic appearance than prosthetics with hooks.
Generally speaking, simpler myoelectric prostheses offer relatively high grip strengths of up to 30 pounds of force, too. On the other hand, prosthetics with multi-articulating functionality offer a lower grip strength, but they can carry out more complex movements.
A hybrid prosthesis combines myoelectric operation and body power, allowing for quicker, more controlled movements and versatility. The advantage of this prosthetic type is that it provides the multi-articulating functionality of a myoelectric arm as well as the strength and sensory feedback of a body-powered prosthesis.
With a hybrid prosthesis, you can move the elbow and the hand simultaneously. The transhumeral prosthetic system is straightforward, as well, which allows for the quick operation of the elbow and the placement of the terminal device. This type of prosthesis also has a relatively low weight.
An activity-specific prosthesis is an attachment with a design that allows you to carry out a specific activity, such as brushing teeth or holding an object. They are typically only used for actions that would otherwise be impossible with a passive, myoelectrical, or body-powered prosthesis.
Some manufacturers custom design prosthetic hands that are interchangeable with a prosthetic arm to participate in work-related activities, hobbies, and sports. However, an activity-specific prosthesis can also be a single module that includes the prosthetic arm with a hook, weight-bearing platform, or specially designed fitting.
The Typical Costs of Prosthetics
In Canada, a passive prosthetic limb can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on its construction and functionality. Body-powered prostheses with split hooks or prosthetic hands that can open and close are more expensive, with price tags as high as $10,000. Myoelectric arms fall into the highest price category and can cost up to $100,000.
The cost of a myoelectric arm depends on various factors, including the level of limb loss. A myoelectric prosthetic for a patient who suffered partial loss of their hand may cost less than $20,000. On the other hand, a prosthetic for limb loss from the shoulder with a fully functioning and realistic hand can cost up to $100,000 or more.
Thought-controlled robotic arms that operate through nerve signals are still in the early stages of development and highly exclusive. Even though these prosthetics are in the experimental phase, they can cost millions of dollars.
Apart from the prosthesis itself, getting a prosthetic arm also requires two types of therapy to learn how to use your prosthesis in your everyday life and recover fully from your injury.
Occupational therapy costs around $400 per session and focuses on rehabilitation and overall well-being. During these sessions, your therapist will assist you in developing the motor skills and cognitive abilities necessary to cope with the change.
Physical therapy costs, on average, around $200 per session, with some high-profile therapists charging $400 or more. This type of therapy focuses on improving your mobility and function while managing pain and discomfort.
Other common costs associated with prosthetics include maintenance, repairs, and eventually replacement. Many amputees find they need to replace their prostheses every five years or so, more if they lead an active lifestyle. The quality of the prosthetic also plays a role in replacement frequency, of course.
Financing a Prosthetic Limb
When it comes to prosthetic treatments, coverage in the Canadian healthcare system is highly variable, and many patients have to rely on non-governmental organizations, fundraising, private insurance, group benefits, or their personal resources for funding.
Funding programs also vary between provinces, and the process of financing a prosthetic limb can be complex. Fortunately, patients undergoing prosthetic therapy are eligible for the Medical Expense Tax Credit (METC). You can also use a Health Care Spending Account (HCSA) to cover the cost of a prosthetic.
Health Care Spending Account (HCSA)
An HCSA is a supplemental employee benefits program that provides more coverage flexibility than conventional health plans. The account includes a set amount that can be used for medical expenses.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) regulates which expenses are eligible under the account. In addition to prosthetics, an HCSA can also cover things such as:
- Prosthetic therapy
- Cosmetic surgical procedures
- Over-the-counter medical drugs
- At-home care
You can open your own HCSA if you own an incorporated business, even if you are the only employee. Alternately, you can also open an HCSA if you are a sole proprietor, self-employed, or an independent contractor with at least one employee. The benefit of an HCSA is that you can withdraw funds from your business account to reimburse your own medical costs tax-free. Even better? Those costs also become a business deduction.
Need to Open an HCSA?
While not everyone can take advantage of an HCSA, if you qualify, at Group Enroll, we can help you find the best rate possible. Just fill out our quick quote form, and we’ll get back to you for a little more information. Then, we’ll reach out to our contacts at Canada’s top insurance companies to get you competitive quotes for coverage.
If you have any questions, feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to help. We’re a Canadian-owned and operated business committed to helping other Canadian business owners succeed. We’re located at 10 Great Gulf Drive, Unit 5, Vaughan, ON, L4K 5W1.