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Free Sources of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) for the Underinsured

Tim Boyer's picture
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

A recent health show episode about transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy for treating depression has generated a significant amount of online discussion about where to get TMS treatment and whether insurance companies will cover the expensive procedure for the underinsured. As it turns out, free sources of transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy are available if you know where to look.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. Unfortunately however, many health insurance plans do not provide coverage for the underinsured who wish to use transcranial magnetic stimulation to cure their depression. The good news is that due to the growing interest in this new medical technology, researchers across the U.S and Canada are seeking volunteers for free treatment using TMS as part of their studies on its efficacy in treating depression.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is for patients who suffer from depression that has not responded favorably to more conventional depression treatments such as psychotherapy or medications. With TMS, a patient sits in a reclining chair and a large electromagnetic coil is placed against the patient’s scalp near the forehead. The electromagnetic coil used in transcranial magnetic stimulation creates electric currents and magnetic fields that stimulate nerve cells in the region of your brain involved in mood control and depression. Typically, treatment involves five 40-minute treatments a week for up to six weeks.

Because transcranial magnetic stimulation is a relatively new treatment for depression, your insurance provider may consider it to be an experimental therapy and will not cover the costs. According to the Regence Group arm of Blue Cross and Blue Shield:

Transcranial magnetic stimulation of the brain is considered “investigational” as a treatment for all indications, including but not limited to:

1. Alcohol dependence
2. Alzheimer’s disease
3. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
4. Autism
5. Bipolar mania
6. Bulimia nervosa (BN)
7. Depression
8. Fibromyalgia
9. Migraine
10. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
11. Pain
12. Parkinson’s disease
13. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
14. Schizophrenia
15. Spasticity
16. Stroke rehabilitation
17. Tinnitus

And takes the position that:

“…coverage for transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy has not been established as an effective treatment for any conditions due to randomized controlled trials comparing active TMS to sham devices are unreliable and do not allow conclusions about true treatment effects.”

Until more studies are done to determine how effective TMS is, which treatment techniques work best and whether it has any long-term side effects, TMS is not expected to be covered by insurance companies anytime in the near future. Patients deciding to pay out their own pocket for treatment can expect to pay between a few to several hundred dollars per treatment.

Until then, however, there is hope for patients with depression seeking this treatment by finding clinical studies that are actively seeking volunteer participants. The best sources for locating transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment can be found at the following three websites:

• PaidClinicalTrials.org

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• ClinicalTrials.gov

• CenterWatch.com

On these sites you can enter in keyword searches using search phrases like “transcranial magnetic stimulation,” ”repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation” or “r-transcranial magnetic stimulation.” You will also typically find a field to enter in the region you are interested in to narrow your search to a nearby area.

One important thing to remember is that there is no guarantee that you will receive the actual treatment because most studies utilize control subjects along with the test subjects and you will likely not know which group you were in until after the study is completed. Control groups are also known as the placebo group, which is an important factor toward ensuring that extraneous factors or other causes are not skewing the studies true results.

And even though you may wind up in a control group, this is not a reason to get discouraged as you will be helping others with conditions like yours and can take some satisfaction and good karma that your efforts are not in vain. Talk to the people who are doing the research, build a relationship, and follow Zig Ziglar’s bit of wisdom— “You can have everything in life that you want if you just give enough other people what they want.”

Another tip is to be sure to call the center that is performing the study to ensure that the information is current from the clinical study locator websites. Sometimes a study is discontinued or no longer seeking volunteers, but may not be updated on the website.

The take home message is that whether you are underinsured or have no health insurance at all, you can find a free source of transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy by becoming proactive toward your health in spite of the medical insurance industry’s jaundiced view of TMS and the possibilities it may hold toward good health.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia





Regence Blue Cross/ Blue Shield



I had brain surgery back in 2003 which removed my left temporal lobe due to a cavernous angioma that leaked out iron. I'v had type 1 diabetes for 5yrs. Any chance I could get a free trial or something?