Highmark Inc., one of the largest Blue Cross Blue Shield plan providers in the U.S., said Saturday it would pull its coverage of laparoscopic power morcellation because it could spread cancer in women undergoing gynecological surgery. The procedure involves a bladed device that cuts up fibroid tumors and, when cancer is present, may distribute the cells over a wider area.
The Wall Street Journal said the privately held Highmark is the first insurer to drop coverage of the procedure. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in April it would re-evaluate the safety of the procedure and advised doctors against using it in the interim. The Ethicon unit of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) suspended sales of all its morcellation devices and recalled them from customers last week.
A representative of the Pittsburgh-based Highmark, Aaron Billger, said it was “in the best interest of our members” to stop covering the procedure. UPMC, the biggest hospital group in western Pennsylvania, said Friday it would stop performing the procedure Sept. 1, the Pittsburgh Business Times reported.
Morcellation is a minimally invasive procedure that helps speed recovery, limit scarring and blood loss, and reduce the risk of infection. The Business Times reported recent studies indicate 250 of every 100,000 women undergoing the procedure suffer advanced cancer.