|2012 – 2013
ISASS BOARD OF DIRECTORSPresident
Steven Garfin, MD, USA
Michael Ogon, MD, Austria
Hee Kit Wong, MD, PhD, Singapore
Jeffrey Goldstein, MD, USA
ISASS Past Presidents
Thomas Errico, MD, USA
Chun-Kun Park, MD, PhD, South Korea
Karin Büttner-Janz, MD, PhD, Germany
Hansen A. Yuan, MD, USA
Stephen Hochschuler, MD, USA
Thierry Marnay, MD, France
Rudolf Bertagnoli, MD, Germany
(the late) Charles Ray, MD, USA
2013 Program Chairs
Overall Program Chair
Clinical Science Chair
|May 31, 2012
Will Harms, MD, MBA
RE: Draft Medical Policy Number SUR712.036 – Lumbar Spinal Fusion
Dear Dr. Harms:
I am writing to you and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois on behalf of the International Society for the Advancement of Spine Surgery (ISASS). ISASS is an international, scientific, and educational society organized to discuss and assess existing strategies and innovative ideas in the clinical and basic sciences related to spine surgery to enhance patient care.
We are aware that BCBS of Illinois and HCSC are accepting comments on your recent proposed policy on lumbar spine fusion surgeries, and we appreciate the opportunity to comment.
While many patients with degenerative disc disease or facet syndrome will not have that diagnosis as their sole indication (which would disqualify them from fusions under your proposed policy), there are patients with chronic low back pain who have not responded to appropriate non-operative treatment and who will benefit from a surgical fusion procedure. With the promulgation of this policy, those patients may now lose the opportunity of a clinically meaningful improvement. Given that all patients are different, sweeping policy statements will exclude properly selected patients from receiving appropriate clinical care.
ISASS has specific concerns with your proposed policy as written. They include:
For recurrent, same level, disc herniation, the proposed policy would not permit fusion for patients who have an extruded disk fragment prior to 6-months after initial disk surgery. It appears that this 6-month cutoff is arbitrary, given the unpredictable course of post-discectomy healing, including temporal variability in the scarring and sealing of annular defects. This cutoff should therefore be removed from the policy so that patients with early disc re-herniation remain eligible for lumbar fusion after all non-surgical options have been exhausted.
Your proposed policy quotes a 2005 guideline for the performance of fusion procedures published by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, which concluded that the evidence at that time was weak and which recommended the need for the neurosurgical community to design and complete prospective randomized trials to answer the many lingering questions with rigorous scientific power. What you did not quote from that guideline was the recommendation that fusion surgeries be considered as treatment options for carefully selected patients with disabling low back pain due to degenerative disease at one or two levels.
Your proposed policy also quotes a 2006 technology assessment by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in which correctly concluded that there is no randomized controlled trial evidence that directly compares lumbar spinal fusion with nonsurgical conservative treatments in populations older than 65 years of age for any indication. It should be noted that it is unlikely that randomized controlled trials for this particular purpose will be specifically performed in populations older than 65 years old. Your policy omits the fact that AHRQ’s technology assessment also concluded that “lumbar fusion may result in some benefit compared with conservative treatment in middle age patients with axial back pain who have severe disability or pain from disc disease.” In aggregate, all the studies show that there are patients who clearly benefit from spinal fusion surgery.
Despite overwhelming evidence in numerous scientific publications (SPORT, et al.), that clearly supports the need for spine fusion surgery for specific indications and in select patients, your proposed policy appears to be more closely linked to existing Milliman guidelines for spinal fusions, which are neither grounded in scientific literature nor vetted by surgeons. In fact, we reached out to two Illinois-based professional associations – the Illinois Neurosurgical Society, and the Illinois Society of Orthopedic Surgeons – both of which were unaware of this new proposed policy, and both of which indicated that their members were not involved in the creation or vetting of this proposed policy.
To that end, we would welcome an opportunity to work with you and HCSC to identify in-state surgeons to help develop and review policies that ensure appropriate patient access to medically indicated surgeries and procedures that will improve outcomes and positively change lives. We already have several Illinois-based surgeons who would be more than willing to work with BCBS-IL on this and other policies.
Finally, we are concerned that in this proposed policy, there appears to be a tendency to lump all patients together and make sweeping decisions regarding groups of patients, some of who would respond very well to fusion treatments and others who probably would not. So while surgeons need to do a better job in selecting the appropriate patient for spinal fusions, insurers should refrain from using sweeping decisions that will unfairly deny patients access to needed care. By doing so a number of patients who would have significant clinical benefit will be excluded from that opportunity.
Thank you for your consideration of our comments. We very much look forward to hearing how you might respond to the issues raised herein.
Steven Garfin, MD, USA
Brox, J.I., Sørensen, R., Friis, A., Nygaard, Ø., Indahl, A., Keller, A., Ingebrigtsen, T., Eriksen, H.R., Holm, I., Koller, A.K., Riise, R., Reikerås, O. Randomized clinical trial of lumbar instrumented fusion and cognitive intervention and exercises in patients with chronic low back pain and disc degeneration. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2003 Sep 1;28(17):1913-21.
CIGNA Medical Coverage Policy, Lumbar Fusion for Spinal Instability and Degenerative Disc Conditions. 1/15/2011]; Available from: Cigna.com.
Fairbank, J., Frost, H., Wilson-MacDonald, J., Yu, L.M., Barker, K., Collins, R. Randomised controlled trial to compare surgical stabilisation of the lumbar spine with an intensive rehabilitation programme for patients with chronic low back pain: the MRC spine stabilisation trial. BMJ, 2005, May 28; 330 (7502):1233.
Fritz, J.M., R.E. Erhard, and B.F. Hagen. Segmental instability of the lumbar spine. Phys Ther, 1998. 78(8): p. 889-96.
Fritzell, P., et al. 2001 Volvo Award Winner in Clinical Studies: Lumbar fusion versus nonsurgical treatment for chronic low back pain: a multicenter randomized controlled trial from the Swedish Lumbar Spine Study Group. Spine (Phila Pa 1976), 2001. 26(23): p. 2521-32; discussion 2532-4.
Hanley, E.N., Jr. and S.M. David. Lumbar arthrodesis for the treatment of back pain. J Bone Joint Surg Am, 1999. 81(5): p. 716-30.
Herkowitz HN, Sidhu KS. Lumbar Spine Fusion in the Treatment of Degenerative Conditions: Current Indications and Recommendations. J Am Acad Orthop Surg 1995;3:123-35.
Herkowitz HN. Spine update. Degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 1995;20:1084-90.
Kwon, B.K., et al. Indications, techniques, and outcomes of posterior surgery for chronic low back pain. Orthopedic Clinics of North America, 2003. 34(2): p. 297-308.
Moliterno, J.A., et al. Results and risk factors for recurrence following single-level tubular lumbar microdiscectomy. J Neurosurg Spine. 12(6): p. 680-6.
Polly, D.W., Glassman, S.D., Schwender, J.D., Shaffrey, C.I., Branch, C., Burkus, J.K., Gomet, M.F. Lumbar Spine Study Group. SF-36 PCS Benefit-Cost Ratio of Lumbar Fusion Compression to Other Surgical Interventions: a thought experiment. Spine 2007; 32(11S); S20-S26.
Reitman, C.A. and S.I. Esses. Direct repair of spondylolytic defects in young competitive athletes. Spine J, 2002. 2(2): p. 142-4.
Resnick DK, Choudhri TF, Dailey AT, et al. Guidelines for the performance of fusion procedures for degenerative disease of the lumbar spine. Part 9: fusion in patients with stenosis and spondylolisthesis. J Neurosurg Spine 2005;2:679-85.
Resnick DK, Choudhri TF, Dailey AT, et al. Guidelines for the performance of fusion procedures for degenerative disease of the lumbar spine. Part 10: fusion following decompression in patients with stenosis without spondylolisthesis. J Neurosurg Spine 2005;2:686-91.
Sonntag, V.K. and F.F. Marciano. Is fusion indicated for lumbar spinal disorders? Spine (Phila Pa 1976), 1995. 20(24 Suppl): p. 138S-142S.
Washington State Healthcare Authority. Health Technology Clinical Committee, Findings and Coverage Decision, Lumbar Fusion. 2/15/2008 [cited 11/22/2010]; Available from: www.hta.hca.wa.gov.
Weinstein JN, Tosteson TD, Lurie JD, et al. Surgical vs nonoperative treatment for lumbar disk herniation: the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial (SPORT): a randomized trial. Jama. 2006;296:2441–50.