Editor’s Letter: Statute of Unlimitation

A year ago at this time, the state of Maine put a small but significant dent in the insurance industry’s armor.

Legislators there passed a bill titled “An Act to Improve Outcomes for Persons With Limb Loss,” which required insurers to cover recreational prostheses for amputees aged 18 or younger if the attending doctor deemed such a device necessary to the patient’s health and well-being.

The law was officially enacted on May 7, 2022. For the first time, American insurers were prohibited from invoking their favorite words—“not medically necessary”—to keep their own costs low while restricting amputees’ access to high-end prostheses. Amputee advocates in Maine argued—and lawmakers agreed—that physical exercise isn’t just a luxury that patients should have to bear the full cost for. Rather, it’s a fundamental component of physical, mental, and emotional health—especially for young amputees whose bodies and identities are still forming.

If the impact of that law wasn’t clear at the time, it’s obvious now. In 2023, six states introduced bills that were modeled on the Maine legislation. Two of those states (New Mexico and Arkansas) have already signed their bills into law as of this writing, and two others (Illinois and Colorado) have passed their version of the bill through one house of the legislature, with a chance to get enacted before lawmakers adjourn for the year. And advocates across the country are preparing to roll out an even larger wave of these bills in 2024.

We’ve told a big chunk of this story in “Power to the People,” which begins on page 28. And the recognition of amputees’ right to pursue recreation is involved in all four of the features in this issue.

In the case of our article about water sports (“Taking the Plunge”), the connection is obvious. One reason so many amputees turn to surfing, paddling, diving, and other water-borne diversions is because they can participate without owning a specialized prosthesis. As a result, these sports are easier to participate in than running, cycling, climbing, and other sports that require the use of a $30,000 limb. Turn to page 18 to learn about the physical, social, and emotional benefits of water recreation.

We wouldn’t necessarily use the term “recreation” to describe what Kirstie Ennis does. But her quest to climb Mount Everest this month does underscore the link between prosthetic access and physical empowerment. “The outdoors isn’t just for one type of person,” says Ennis. That’s truer than ever now that barriers to prosthetic access are starting to crumble. That story begins on page 24.

Our final feature this month, “Comrades in Arms” (page 12), traces the roots of today’s prosthetic devices all the way back to World War I. The conflict sparked a flurry of innovation, as Americans demanded that the amputees returning from that war be equipped to resume their lives. The same demand is behind the laws of 2023: Amputees simply want access to devices that help them live happy, healthy lives. 

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