TO: UnitedHealthcare Appeals Department
DATE: February 29, 2010
RE: Appeal Letter Regarding Arthroscopic Hip Surgery
Mailed to _______________________
This letter serves as an appeal to the UHC denial of the arthroscopic hip surgery performed by Dr. ____on 11/30/2009. This surgery was performed to debride a torn acetabular labrum as well as to correct my femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) syndrome. United Healthcare’s rationale is that arthroscopic surgery for FAI is unproven; this was documented in a letter dated 12/30/09 from Bradley J. Osborne, MD, Medical Director. This letter states that these services are “experimental or investigational”.
United Healthcare’s decision should be reversed for three reasons. First, I have undergone this procedure by the same in-network physician in the past, and it has been covered by UHC (3/5/07, 7/2/07 and 11/12/07). Second, my medical history demonstrates that a surgical alternative was necessary and appropriate. Third, the medical literature and coverage by other major insurers supports the use of arthroscopic surgery for FAI, therefore, it would appear to the reasonable person that UHC is discriminatory in their policies.
I. This Procedure Has Been Covered In The Past
I have undergone this procedure 3 different times in the past, the first one was performed on March 5, 2007, the second was performed on July 2, 2007 and the third was performed on November 12, 2007. These procedures were covered at the negotiated rate with UHC, as Dr ____ is an in-network provider. I was never notified by UHC that this procedure would not be covered. Obviously, my concern is the reliability of UHC. There must be consistency of processes in order to avoid costly mistakes like this
II. My Medical History Supports A Surgical Response
Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) occurs when the ball (head of the femur) does not have its full range of motion within the socket. It is the main cause of early damage to the acetabular labrum and articular cartilage of the hip, particularly in young, active patients and high level athletes. Impingement causes pain, decreased range of motion and mechanical symptoms such as locking of the joint.
I relentlessly attempted to manage my FAI with conservative measures, including strengthening of the hip muscles, activity modification and several injections into my hip; however, my pain became debilitating and my range of motion became quite limited. As a young, active, and very healthy 29 year old, and only after conservative treatment failed, I decided it was best to pursue surgical treatment because chronic pain and immobility can lead to risk for multiple health conditions, such as obesity, depression, diabetes not to mention the very realistic probability of needing a premature total hip replacement.
My doctor, Dr.____– a world renowned expert in arthroscopic hip surgery –explained that I had exhausted all of my conservative options and in order to relieve my symptoms, he recommended arthroscopic hip surgery because it involves minimal complications, minimal pain, very low risk of infection, and a short recovery time, all on an outpatient basis. There are other treatment options that include open surgical dislocation as well as a total hip arthroplasty, but unlike arthroscopic treatment, these require that the hip be dislocated which increases the risk of avascular necrosis. As you are aware, avascular necrosis by itself is a complication that can contribute to serious morbidity. Thus, the risks and the potential costs to United Healthcare and the patient, are lower with the arthroscopic procedure. This is also confirmed by the Hayes report as the clinical options. Additionally, at my current age, activity level, and amount of cartilage wear, I do not qualify for a total hip replacement.
Please note that I am well on my way to an excellent outcome thanks to Dr.____’s ability to provide me the state-of-the-art treatment that has been developed and tested, as evidenced by scholarly publications and as an approved surgery by Blue Cross, Kaiser, Blue Shield, Cigna and other insurance companies. This surgery has improved my quality of life and ability to function, which will allow me to avoid premature total hip arthroplasty and the medical treatments associated with chronic disease.
III. The Medical Literature Supports this Procedure for FAI
As indicated in the outset of this document, United Healthcare has denied coverage because this procedure is “unproven.”
United Healthcare’s definition of “unproven services” is as follows:
“Services that are not consistent with conclusions of prevailing medical research which demonstrates that the health service has a beneficial effect on health outcomes and that are not based on trials that meet either of the following designs.
-Well conducted randomized controlled trials
-Well conducted cohort studies
Decisions about whether to cover new technologies, procedures and treatments will be consistent with conclusions of prevailing medical research, based on well-conducted randomized trials or cohort studies, as described.”
A review of the “prevailing published peer-reviewed literature” shows that arthroscopic surgery is not “unproven” for FAI.
In regards to my condition and the treatment Dr. ___provided, UHC should fully understand that FAI is a condition that is painful and debilitating as was my experience as well as countless others. As Dr. Osborne, the original UHC denying doctor, is a general surgeon he may not know the extent of the disability associated with FAI. It is a condition that has been recognized in the literature since the 1930’s (Smith & Peterson, 1936). Femoroacetabular impingement syndrome is the result of abnormal contact between the proximal femur and acetabulum and can result in intra-articular pathology and eventual osteoarthritis (Beck et al., 2004; Ganz et al., 2003).
Furthermore, FAI is one of the most common causes of premature osteoarthritis in men and women (e.g., Ganz et al.., 2003; Murray & Duncan, 1971; Smith & Peterson, 1936).
Although the open hip procedure has historically been the “gold standard,” perhaps due to previous technological limitations, there are extensive complications, chronic disability and pain associated with it as well. Additionally, UHC has recently taken the position to not cover open FAI surgery. Again, UHC is being discriminatory in their coverage for FAI. UHC has refused to pay for ANY required surgical repair of this syndrome.
Bedi et al. (2008) published a systematic review of the surgical treatment of FAI syndrome. These authors report that there are only five scholarly articles (peer reviewed journals) published reporting outcomes of the open surgical approach with 20 or more hips included. Good outcomes achieved ranged from 65-85% of hips (Beck et al., 2004; Beaulé et al., 2007; Espinosa et al., 2006; Murphy et al., 2004; Peters & Erickson, 2004).
There are more outcome studies published in peer-reviewed journals on the arthroscopic correction of FAI syndrome and/or other intra-articular pathology that include 20 or more hips, which is a stronger compilation of evidence than for that of the open procedure (Byrd & Jones, 2000; Farjo et al., 1999; Ilizaliturri et al., 2008; Larson & Giveans; O’Leary et al., 2001; Philippon et al, 2007; Potter et al., 2005; Santori & Villar, 2000).
Of high importance, the success rates of the arthroscopic procedure were achieved without the complications, such as avascular necrosis, associated with the open hip dislocation. In fact, the Hayes report indicates that there is a 1.3% complication rate with the arthroscopic procedure compared to a “10-12%” complication rate of the open hip surgery. Additionally, more recent studies not included in the Bedi et al. article, support evidence for long-term benefits (Ilizaliturri et al., 2008; Philippon et al., 2009).
Although the Hayes report provided a superficial analysis of the evidence for United Healthcare, there is one thing in the Hayes report that clearly stood out: arthroscopic FAI surgery must be performed by an orthopedist with special training in hip arthroscopy. Not only does Dr. ___have special training, he is an international leading expert in arthroscopic hip surgery, which is partially reflected by prestigious publications in multiple peer reviewed journals.
United Healthcare seems to believe that arthroscopy is unproven because studies only cover a two-year period as indicated in “Outcomes following hip arthroscopy for femoroacetabular impingement with associated chondrolabral dysfunction: minimum two-year follow-up.” Philippon MJ, Briggs KK, Yen YM, Kuppersmith DA. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2009 Jan;91(1):16-23. My question for United Healthcare is would four years be enough? Ten years? This seems like nothing more than a convenient excuse to avoid coverage of a procedure that has proven to be safe and effective.
In a more recent article published by Byrd and Jones, “Prospective Analysis of Hip Arthroscopy with 10-year Followup”, response to hip arthroscopy was investigated in a consecutive series of patients with 10 years followup. All patients undergoing hip arthroscopy were assessed prospectively with a modified Harris hip score preoperatively and then postoperatively at 3, 12, 24, 60, and 120 months. The median improvement was 25 points (preoperative, 56 points; postoperative, 81 points). This study substantiates the long-term effectiveness of arthroscopy in the hip as treatment for various disorders, including labral pathology, chondral damage, synovitis, and loose bodies.
There are many published studies indicating the effective results of arthroscopic treatment of FAI. The largest study to date is Sampson, T.G. (2006) “Arthroscopic treatment of femoraoacetabular impingement; a proposed technique with clinical experience.” In this study of 183 hips, 94% achieved a high degree of satisfaction with the surgical outcome. Only six patients had subsequent total hip arthroplasties. The results further showed that for the majority of patients’ pain decreased by 50% in 2 to 6 weeks, 75% by 5 months, and 95% by 1 year. In addition, there has recently been a publication in the British Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery by Dr. Marc Philippon. He is an authority on the subject and has published extensively on the topic, as you should be aware. In this article he documents the improvement provided to a group of patients undergoing the arthroscopic procedure with over two years of follow-up. The reference for the article is: “Outcomes following hip arthroscopy for femoroacetabular impingement with associated chondrolabral dysfunction: minimum two-year follow-up.” Philippon MJ, Briggs KK, Yen YM, Kuppersmith DA. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2009 Jan;91(1):16-23.
Again, United Healthcare relied on a Hayes report that UHC says was updated based on studies from 2007 and 2008. However, the key study by Philippon from 2009 was not utilized in UHC’s “science” based determination of my claim. Additionally, the small print in the Hayes report indicates that this report “is not intended to be used as the sole basis for determining coverage, reimbursement or technology acquisition” (Hayes report). There was no indication that my clinical information or communication initiated by UHC with my physician was taken into account.
United Healthcare claims that there may be (not are) problems in the long term. United Healthcare can cite no study showing that there are problems in the long term. In fact, there is no evidence of this, and what we do know is that this procedure avoids avascular necrosis, the risk of which is inherent in an open procedure. So what has to be balanced is the risk of avascular necrosis and other serious complications against the entirely speculative possibility of long-term problems with arthroscopic surgery. In other words, we are balancing a known complication against an unknown, entirely speculative one.
The circumstances in which this surgery was performed, and the literature pertaining to this surgery, have not yet been reviewed by an orthopedist. United Healthcare’s reviews have been by a general surgeon. I strongly believe that, if a proper review was conducted, the finding would be that this procedure ought to be covered as it is covered by Kaiser, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Cigna and others.
In conclusion, it appears that UHC needs to catch up with the evidence, and reverse their policy of viewing arthroscopic, as well as open treatment of FAI as unproven. Not only is this false, as evidenced above, it is discriminatory to those afflicted with the condition. Specifically, denying the procedure to patients is clinically wrong and misguided. There is clear literature to support the lasting improvement afforded by this operation. More importantly, not performing the procedure and letting patients wait until they are in enough pain or have enough deformity to warrant a total hip replacement keeps patients in pain and suffering for an inordinate amount of time. There is a procedure that can help patients and improve their quality of life with a minimum of surgical trauma, yet you choose to disallow it, based on a superficial analysis of the available clinical series.
Despite my good physical recovery, I have been unnecessarily stressed by the lack of a fair and consistent policy UHC has demonstrated since my claim was filed. Be assured that I intend to use every available means to get this matter resolved as I’m interpreting UHC’s actions to be discriminatory. In the meantime, I will await a thorough and scientific review of my appeal by an orthopedic specialist apprised of the current knowledge base surrounding FAI. I am expecting payment on my claim as I believe the literature does support that this procedure is not unproven. This is also evidenced by multiple other insurers covering this procedure.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any specific questions or if additional information is needed.
Prospective Analysis of Hip Arthroscopy with 10-year Followup. Byrd JW, Jones KS. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research
Sports and Recreation Activity of Patients With Femoroacetabular Impingement Before and After Arthroscopic Osteoplasty. Brunner A, Horisberger M, Herzog RF.
Am J Sports Med. 2009 Feb 26. [Epub ahead of print]
How accurately can the acetabular rim be trimmed in hip arthroscopy for pincer-type femoral acetabular impingement: a cadaveric investigation. Zumstein M, Hahn F, Sukthankar A, Sussmann PS, Dora C.
Arthroscopy. 2009 Feb;25(2):164-8.
Arthroscopically assisted anterior decompression for femoroacetabular impingement: technique and early clinical results.Hartmann A, Günther KP. Arch Orthop Trauma Surg. 2009 Jan 6. [Epub ahead of print]
Arthroscopic femoroplasty in the management of cam-type femoroacetabular impingement. Byrd JW, Jones KS. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 Mar;467(3):739-46.
Outcomes following hip arthroscopy for femoroacetabular impingement with associated chondrolabral dysfunction: minimum two-year follow-up. Philippon MJ, Briggs KK, Yen YM, Kuppersmith DA. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2009 Jan;91(1):16-23.
Femoroacetabular impingement treatment using arthroscopy and anterior approach.
Laude F, Sariali E, Nogier A. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 Mar;467(3):747-52.
Arthroscopic management of femoroacetabular impingement: early outcomes measures.
Larson CM, Giveans MR. Arthroscopy. 2008 May;24(5):540-6.
Complications of arthroscopic femoroacetabular impingement treatment: a review.
Ilizaliturri VM Jr. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 Mar;467(3):760-8.
Arthroscopic treatment of cam-type femoroacetabular impingement: preliminary report at 2 years minimum follow-up.Ilizaliturri VM Jr, Orozco-Rodriguez L, Acosta-Rodríguez E, Camacho-Galindo J. J Arthroplasty. 2008 Feb;23(2):226-34.
Arthroscopic treatment of femoroacetabular impingement secondary to paediatric hip disorders. Ilizaliturri VM Jr, Nossa-Barrera JM, Acosta-Rodriguez E, Camacho-Galindo J. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2007 Aug;89(8):1025-30.
Early outcome of hip arthroscopy for femoroacetabular impingement: the role of femoral osteoplasty in symptomatic improvement. Bardakos NV, Vasconcelos JC, Villar RN.
J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2008 Dec;90(12):1570-5.
Early outcomes after hip arthroscopy for femoroacetabular impingement in the athletic adolescent patient: a preliminary report. Philippon MJ, Yen YM, Briggs KK, Kuppersmith DA, Maxwell RB. J Pediatr Orthop. 2008 Oct-Nov;28(7):705-10.
Treatment of femoro-acetabular impingement with surgical dislocation and débridement in young adults. Peters CL, Erickson JA. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2006 Aug;88(8):1735-41.
Arthroscopic offset restoration in femoroacetabular cam impingement: accuracy and early clinical outcome. Stähelin L, Stähelin T, Jolles BM, Herzog RF.
Arthroscopy. 2008 Jan;24(1):51-57.
Influence of femoroacetabular impingement on results of hip arthroscopy in patients with early osteoarthritis. Kim KC, Hwang DS, Lee CH, Kwon ST.
Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2007 Mar;456:128-32.
Quality of life following femoral head-neck osteochondroplasty for femoroacetabular impingement. Beaulé PE, Le Duff MJ, Zaragoza E.
J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2007 Apr;89(4):773-9.
Femoroacetabular impingement in 45 professional athletes: associated pathologies and return to sport following arthroscopic decompression. Philippon M, Schenker M, Briggs K, Kuppersmith D.
Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2007 Jul;15(7):908-14.
Debridement of the adult hip for femoroacetabular impingement: indications and preliminary clinical results. Murphy S, Tannast M, Kim YJ, Buly R, Millis MB.
Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2004 Dec;(429):178-81.
Hip damage occurs at the zone of femoroacetabular impingement.
Tannast M, Goricki D, Beck M, Murphy SB, Siebenrock KA. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2008 Feb;466(2):273-80.
Anterior femoroacetabular impingement: part II. Midterm results of surgical treatment. Beck M, Leunig M, Parvizi J, Boutier V, Wyss D, Ganz R. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2004 Jan;(418):67-73.
Revision hip arthroscopy. Philippon MJ, Schenker ML, Briggs KK, Kuppersmith DA, Maxwell RB, Stubbs AJ. Am J Sports Med. 2007 Nov;35(11):1918-21.
Examples of Other Insurance Carriers Policy on FAI Including:
BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina
BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi
(I printed out the above companies policies and included them)
BCBS N. Carolina: http://www.bcbsnc.com/assets/services/public/pdfs/medicalpolicy/arthroscopic_surgery_for_femoroacetabular_impingement.pdf
Anthem Blue Cross
Kaiser demonstrates their surgery for FAI:
Regence covers it as well.
Copy of an external review for another UHC member who was denied coverage for an almost identical procedure. Please note that this reviewer, an orthopaedic specialist, stated that this procedure should not be considered investigational or experimental at this time. Additionally, this external reviewer indicated that UHC was arbitrary and unethical in their decision to deny this claim.