Abdominoplasty, Suction Lipectomy, and Ventral Hernia Repair

Number: 0211


  1. Aetna considers panniculectomy/apronectomy medically necessary according to the following criteria:

    1. Panniculus hangs below level of pubis, documented by photographs; and
    2. The medical records document that the panniculus causes chronic intertrigo (dermatitis occurring on opposed surfaces of the skin, skin irritation, infection or chafing) that consistently recurs over 3 months while receiving appropriate medical therapy (e.g., oral or topical prescription medication), or remains refractory to appropriate medical therapy over a period of 3 months; and
    3. Photographs with pannus lifted to document presence of intertrigo.

    Aetna considers panniculectomy/apronectomy cosmetic when these criteria are not met.

    Aetna considers panniculectomy/apronectomy experimental and investigational for minimizing the risk of hernia formation or recurrence.  There is inadequate evidence that pannus contributes to hernia formation.  The primary cause of hernia formation is an abdominal wall defect or weakness, not a pulling effect from a large or redundant pannus  Aetna considers panniculectomy for the treatment of back pain experimental and investigational because of insufficient evidence of its effectiveness.

  2. Aetna considers repair of a true incisional or ventral hernia medically necessary.

  3. Aetna considers repair of a diastasis recti, defined as a thinning out of the anterior abdominal wall fascia, not medically necessary because, according to the clinical literature, it does not represent a "true" hernia and is of no clinical significance.  

  4. Aetna considers abdominoplasty, suction lipectomy, or lipoabdominoplasty cosmetic.

  5. Aetna considers abdominal lipectomy for the treatment of metabolic syndrome, or as an adjunctive procedure to assist with long-term weight loss following bariatric surgery, experimental and investigational because of insufficient evidence of its effectiveness.

  6. Aetna considers adipose derived stem cell-assisted lipotransfer experimental and investigational because of insufficient evidence of its effectiveness.


In order to distinguish a ventral hernia repair from a purely cosmetic abdominoplasty, Aetna requires documentation of the size of the hernia, whether the ventral hernia is reducible, whether the hernia is accompanied by pain or other symptoms, the extent of diastasis (separation) of rectus abdominus muscles, whether there is a defect (as opposed to mere thinning) of the abdominal fascia, and office notes indicating the presence and size of the fascial defect.

Abdominoplasty, known more commonly as a "tummy tuck," is a surgical procedure to remove excess skin and fat from the middle and lower abdomen and to tighten the muscles of the abdominal wall.  The procedure can improve cosmesis by reducing the protrusion of the abdomen.  However, abdominoplasty is considered by Aetna to be cosmetic because it is not associated with functional improvements.

Danilla et al (2013) examined if suction-assisted lipectomy (SAL) decreases the incidence of early cardiovascular disease risk factors or its biochemical and clinical risk indicators.  A systematic review of the literature was performed by conducting a pre-defined, sensitive search in MEDLINE without limiting the year of publication or language.  The extracted data included the basal characteristics of the patients, the surgical technique, the amount of fat extracted, the cardiovascular risk factors and the biochemical and clinical markers monitored over time.  The data were analyzed using pooled curves, risk ratios and standardized means with meta-analytical techniques.  A total of 15 studies were identified involving 357 patients.  In all of the studies, measurements of pre-defined variables were recorded before and after the SAL procedure.  The median follow-up was 3 months (interquartile range (IQR) 1 to 6, range of 0.5 to 10.5).  The mean amount of extracted fat ranged from 2,063 to 16,300 ml, with a mean ± standard deviation (SD) of 6,138 ± 4,735 ml.  After adjusting for time and body mass index (BMI), leptin and fasting insulin were the only markers that were significantly associated with the amount of aspirated fat.  No associations were observed for high sensitive C-reactive protein (hCRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6), adiponectin, resistin, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), Homeostasis Model of Assessment (HOMA), total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), triglycerides, free fatty acids or systolic blood pressure.  The authors concluded that based on the results of this analysis, the authors concluded that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that subcutaneous fat removal reduces early cardiovascular or metabolic disease, its markers or its risk factors.

Aboelatta and colleagues (2014) stated that lipoabdominoplasty is nearly a daily aesthetic procedure.  Despite the emergence of laser-assisted liposuction, to-date, it has not been clearly evaluated combined with abdominoplasty.  This prospective study aimed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of laser-assisted liposuction relative to traditional liposuction combined with high-lateral-tension abdominoplasty.  This study investigated 36 consecutive female patients who underwent high-lateral-tension abdominoplasty combined with liposuction of the upper central abdomen and both flanks.  The patients were divided into 3 equal groups based on the technique used for liposuction: 
  1. Group 1 underwent conventional liposuction with abdominoplasty,
  2. Group 2 underwent a mixture of conventional and laser-assisted liposuction with abdominoplasty, and
  3. Group 3 underwent laser-assisted liposuction with abdominoplasty. 

Patients in groups 2 and 3 had a better aesthetic outcome than those in group 1 with regard to abdominal contour and skin tightness.  No major complications were observed in groups 1 and 2.  The patients in group 3 had a higher incidence of complications (3 seromas, 3 central necroses and dehiscence), and 1 patient underwent secondary sutures.  The authors concluded that laser-assisted liposuction combined with abdominoplasty in the lateral abdomen seems to be a safe technique with good aesthetic outcomes.  Although the combined use of laser-assisted liposuction in the lateral and central abdomen can achieve relatively better aesthetic results, it is associated with significant complications, and its use cannot be supported.  Moreover, they stated that proper laser parameters in the central abdominal area still need further study.

Abdominal Lipectomy for the Treatment of Metabolic Syndrome

In a systematic and meta-analysis, Seretis et al (2015) examined the effect of abdominal lipectomy on metabolic syndrome components and insulin sensitivity in women.  A pre-determined protocol, established according to the Cochrane Handbook's recommendations, was used.  An electronic search in MEDLINE, Scopus, the Cochrane Library and CENTRAL electronic databases was conducted from inception to May 14, 2015.  This search was supplemented by a review of reference lists of potentially eligible studies and a manual search of key journals in the field of plastic surgery.  Eligible studies were prospective studies with greater than or equal to 1month of follow-up that included females only who underwent abdominal lipectomy and reported on parameters of metabolic syndrome and insulin sensitivity.  The systematic review included 11 studies with a total of 271 individuals.  Conflicting results were revealed, though most studies showed no significant metabolic effects after lipectomy.  The meta-analysis included 4 studies with 140 subjects.  No significant changes were revealed between lipectomy and control groups.  The authors concluded that this meta-analysis provided evidence that abdominal lipectomy in females did not affect significantly the components of metabolic syndrome and insulin sensitivity.  They stated that further high quality studies are needed to elucidate the potential metabolic effects of abdominal lipectomy.

Panniculectomy for the Treatment of Back Pain

An UpToDate review on “Subacute and chronic low back pain: Surgical treatment” (Chou, 2016) does not mention panniculectomy as a therapeutic option.

Adipose Derived Stem Cell-Assisted Lipotransfer

Grabin and colleagues (2015) stated that because of their easy accessibility and versatile biological properties, mesenchymal stem cells taken from fatty tissue (adipose-derived stem cells, ADSC) are attractive for various potential clinical uses.  For example, ADSC can be added to fatty tissue before transplantation in the hope of improving the outcome of autologous lipotransfer: The modified procedure is called cell-assisted lipotransfer (CAL).  The clinical use and commercial promotion of this novel stem-cell treatment (and others) are spreading rapidly, even though there is not yet any clear clinical evidence for its safety and effectiveness.  In cooperation with the German Cochrane Center, these researchers systematically searched the literature according to the PRISMA criteria; 8 major medical databases were searched.  The retrieved publications were examined by 2 independent reviewers and assessed using objective criteria.  After screening of the 3,161 retrieved publications by title, abstract, and (where appropriate) full text, 78 were still considered relevant; 13 of these were reports of clinical studies; only 3 of the 13 met criteria for grade II or III evidence.  The studies that were analyzed involved a total of 286 CAL procedures with a longest follow-up time of 42 months.  Oncological safety was not demonstrated.  The authors concluded that the studies published to-date have not shown that CAL is generally superior to conventional autologous lipotransfer.  They dealt with safety aspects inappropriately or not at all.  These investigators stated that the case of CAL illustrated the indispensability of high-quality clinical evidence before the introduction of novel stem-cell-based treatments.

Huang and associates (2016) stated that CAL has been widely used in various clinical applications, including breast augmentation following mammectomy, soft-tissue reconstruction and wound healing.  However, the clinical application of CAL has been restricted due to the transplanted fat tissues being readily liquefied and absorbed.  These investigators examined 57 previously published studies involving CAL, including fat grafting or fat transfer with human adipose-stem cells in all known databases.  Of these 57 articles, 7 reported the clinical application of CAL.  In the 57 studies, the majority of the fat tissues were obtained from the abdomen via liposuction of the 7 clinical studies, 4 were performed in patients requiring breast augmentation, 1 in a patient requiring facial augmentation, 1 in a patient requiring soft tissue augmentation/reconstruction and 1 in a patient requiring fat in their upper arms.  The authors stated that the therapeutic effect of CAL in cosmetics and aesthetics remains controversial, most likely because of the lack of a standard method for isolating pure ADSCs.  Currently, the explanation for why adding ADSC to adipose tissues for transplantation allows improved grafting, compared with using adipose tissue only, remains to be elucidated.  Quantitative and qualitative investigations, comparing the therapeutic effects of using pure ADSC and a mixture of ADSC with certain types of fat components or other components are needed to confirm the previous conclusion.  Certain studies have hypothesized that the robust ectopic adipogenesis of ADSC in-vivo relies on their pre-differentiation induced in-vitro prior to their transplantation.  The induced differentiation of ADSC in-vitro may be replaced by supplying adipogenic stimuli to transplanted ADSC, in a process referred to as in-situ adipogenesis.  These investigators also noted that the limited proliferation capacity of ADSC also prevented their widespread clinical use; ADSC lack telomerase and their telomeres are short; thus they can only proliferate in-vitro for a limited period of time.  Studies have shown that the ADSC isolated from aged patients have reduced proliferation capacity and stability.  Therefore, it is reasonable to perform allografts using the ADSC from younger individuals.  The authors concluded that other questions require addressing before CAL being used widely in clinical settings include:
  1. how the proliferation and differentiation process of ADSC can be regulated in-vitro and in-vivo;
  2. which factors control the proliferation and differentiation of ADSC;
  3. the predominant factors controlling the proliferation and differentiation process of ADSC;
  4. which factors stimulate ADSC to secrete paracrine factors;
  5. whether transplanted ADSC are tumorigenic; and
  6. what causes ADSC to become liquefied in-vivo. 

Furthermore, the authors stated that criteria and guidelines are needed for the clinical application of CAL technology. 

Toyserkani and colleagues (2016) noted that autologous lipotransfer is seen as an ideal filler for soft tissue reconstruction.  The main limitation of this procedure is the unpredictable resorption and volume loss of the fat graft.  In the recent decade, an increasing amount of research has focused on the use of ADSC to enrich the fat graft, a procedure known as CAL.  These investigators reviewed the current pre-clinical and clinical evidence for the effectiveness of CAL compared with conventional lipotransfer.  They performed a systematic search on PubMed and other databases to identify all pre-clinical and clinical studies where CAL with ADSC was compared with conventional lipotransfer.  A total of 20 pre-clinical studies and 7 clinical studies were included in the review.  The pre-clinical studies consisted of 15 studies using immuno-deficient animal models and 5 studies using immuno-competent studies; 17 studies examined weight/volume retention of which 15 studies favored CAL over conventional lipotransfer; 1 clinical study did not find any effectiveness of CAL and the remaining 6 studies favored CAL.  The authors concluded that the present evidence suggested that there is a big potential for CAL in reconstructive surgery; however, the present studies are so far still of low quality with inherent weaknesses.  Several aspects regarding CAL still remain unknown such as the optimal degree of cell enrichment and also its safety.  They stated that further high-quality studies are needed to establish if CAL can live up to its potential.  (Level of Evidence = 5).  Moreover, the authors stated that “More studies are needed to examine if CAL and lipotransfer are correlated with increased cancer recurrence risk in relevant patient populations … The published human studies so far show promising results, and further properly designed clinical trials are needed in relevant patient groups to establish in which cases this technique could be relevant and superior to two separate regular lipotransfers”.

Moustaki  and associates (2017) stated that autologous fat is considered the ideal material for soft-tissue augmentation in plastic and reconstructive surgery.  The primary drawback of autologous fat grafting is the high resorption rate.  The isolation of mesenchymal stem cells from adipose tissue inevitably led to research focusing on the study of combined transplantation of autologous fat and ADSCs and introduced the theory of “cell-assisted lipotransfer”.  Transplantation of ADSCs is a promising strategy, due to the high proliferative capacity of stem cells, their potential to induce paracrine signaling and ability to differentiate into adipocytes and vascular cells.  The current study examined the literature for clinical and experimental studies on CAL to assess the efficacy of this novel technique when compared with traditional fat grafting.  A total of 30 studies were included in the present review.  The authors concluded that the current study demonstrated that CAL has improved efficacy compared with conventional fat grafting.  Moreover, they stated that a number of questions, including the long-term safety of CAL regarding previous cancer diagnosis and treatment, remain unanswered; and long-term and larger studies are needed to confirm previously documented favorable results in CAL.

Laloze and co-workers (2017) performed a meta-analysis of the efficacy of CAL with data analysis concerning fat survival rate.  The incidence of complications and the need for multiple procedures were evaluated to determine the safety of CAL.  These investigators identified 25 studies (a total of 696 patients) that were included in the systematic review; 16 studies were included in the meta-analysis to evaluate the efficacy of CAL.  The fat survival rate was significantly higher with CAL than non-CAL (64 % versus 44 %, p < 0.0001) independent of injection site (breast and face).  This benefit of CAL was significant for only injection volumes of less than 100 ml (p = 0.03).  The 2 groups did not differ in frequency of multiple procedures after fat grafting, but the incidence of complications was greater with CAL than non-CAL (8.4 % versus 1.5 %, p = 0.0019).  The CAL method is associated with better fat survival rate than with conventional fat grafting but only for small volumes of fat grafting (less than 100 ml).  Nonetheless, the new technique is associated with more complications and did not reduce the number of surgical procedures needed after the first fat grafting.  The authors concluded that more prospective studies are needed to draw clinical conclusions and to demonstrate the real benefit of CAL as compared with common autologous fat grafting.

Abdominal Lipectomy as an Adjunctive Procedure to Assist with Long-Term Weight Loss Following Bariatric Surgery:

Abbed and colleagues (2017) stated that abdominal lipectomy after bariatric surgery is recommended because of residual excess skin resulting in difficulty with maintaining hygiene, recurrent infections, and functional impairment, interfering with daily activities.  There is a dearth of literature examining weight loss outcomes in patients undergoing abdominal lipectomy post-sleeve gastrectomy (SG).  In a retrospective study, these researchers examined whether post-SG patients who received abdominal lipectomy achieved greater percent excess weight loss (% EWL) than post-SG patients who did not receive abdominal lipectomy.  Patients who underwent minimally invasive SG at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System from March 2008 to June 2015 were included in this study.  The cohort was divided into 2 groups:
  1. patients who underwent abdominal lipectomy after SG (PS-SG), and
  2. patients who underwent SG alone (SG); demographics, co-morbidities, and % EWL were examined. 

A total of 29 patients were included in the PS-SG group versus 287 patients in the SG group.  Significant differences were found in % EWL at 24 (p < 0.0001), 36 (p < 0.005), and more than 36 months (p < 0.005) follow-up between groups, with a greater % EWL in patients in the PS-SG group versus the SG group.  The authors concluded that the findings of this preliminary study showed that patients in the PS-SG group achieved greater % EWL than patients with SG alone.  Moreover, they stated that although larger studies are needed, this study supports using abdominal lipectomy as an adjunctive procedure to assist with long-term weight loss as part of the overall treatment of bariatric surgery patients.


Table: CPT Codes / HCPCS Codes / ICD-10 Codes
Code Code Description

Information in the [brackets] below has been added for clarification purposes.   Codes requiring a 7th character are represented by "+":

CPT codes covered if selection criteria are met:

0437T Implantation of non-biologic or synthetic implant (eg, polypropylene) for fascial reinforcement of the abdominal wall (List separately in addition to code for primary procedure)
15830 Excision, excessive skin and subcutaneous tissue (including lipectomy); abdomen, infraumbilical panniculectomy [documentation required]
49560 Repair initial incisional or ventral hernia; reducible
49561     incarcerated or strangulated
49565 Repair recurrent incisional or ventral hernia; reducible
49566     incarcerated or strangulated
+ 49568 Implantation of mesh or other prosthesis for open incisional or ventral hernia repair or mesh for closure of debridement for necrotizing soft tissue infection (List separately in addition to code for the incisional or ventral hernia repair)
49652 Laparoscopy, surgical, repair, ventral, umbilical, spigelian or epigastric hernia (includes mesh insertion, when performed); reducible
49653     incarcerated or strangulated
49654 Laparoscopy, surgical, repair, incisional hernia (includes mesh insertion, when performed); reducible
49655     incarcerated or strangulated
49656 Laparoscopy, surgical, repair, recurrent incisional hernia (includes mesh insertion, when performed); reducible
49657     incarcerated or strangulated

CPT codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:

+ 15847 Excision, excessive skin and subcutaneous tissue (includes lipectomy), abdomen (e.g. abdominoplasty) (includes umbilical transposition and fascial plication) (List separately in addition to code for primary procedure) [documentation required]
15877 Suction assisted lipectomy; trunk

ICD-10 codes covered if selection criteria are met:

E65 Localized adiposity [abdomen] [documentation required]
K43.0 - K43.9 Ventral hernia
L30.4 Erythema intertrigo [chronic, documentation required]
L98.7 Excessive and redundant skin and subcutaneous tissue
M79.3 Panniculitis [abdomen]

ICD-10 codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:

E88.81 Metabolic syndrome
M54.2 Cervicalgia
M54.30 - M54.32 Sciatica
M54.40 - M54.42 Lumbago with sciatica
M54.5 Low back pain
M54.6 Pain in thoracic spine
M54.81 - M54.9 Other and unspecified dorsalgia
M62.08 Separation of muscle, (non-traumatic) other site [diastasis recti]
Q79.59 Other congenital malformations of abdominal wall [congenital diastasis recti]

The above policy is based on the following references:

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