Compliance with the provisions in this policy may be monitored and addressed through post payment data analysis and subsequent medical review audits.
History/Background and/or General Information
Hyaluronic acid, also known as hyaluronan or hyaluronate, is a naturally occurring substance found in the synovial fluid surrounding joints. Osteoarthritic joints are found to have lower concentrations of hyaluronic acid.1 Intra-articular injection of hyaluronic acid, also known as viscosupplementation, has been proposed as a means of restoring the normal viscoelasticity of the synovial fluid in individuals with osteoarthritis.
Viscosupplementation is most commonly used to treat symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee. Osteoarthritis (OA) results from articular cartilage failure due to the complex interplay of genetic, metabolic, biochemical and biomechanical factors with a secondary component of inflammation. In most patients the initiating mechanism is damage to the articular cartilage either as a single large injury or a series of repeated smaller injuries. The primary symptom of osteoarthritis of the knee is pain, however, because cartilage is aneural, significant radiographic findings are often noted in asymptomatic individuals imaged for other reasons.
Typical candidates for viscosupplementation are those with knee osteoarthritis who have failed to improve with other non-surgical treatments. Several synthetic preparations of hyaluronic acid-based polymers have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a device indicated for the treatment of pain in OA of the knee in patients who have failed to respond adequately to conservative non-pharmacologic therapy and simple analgesics (e.g., acetaminophen) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).2
By adding hyaluronic acid to the existing joint fluid of an osteoarthritic knee, the goal is to:
- Facilitate better knee movement
- Reduce pain
- Perhaps slow osteoarthritis progression3
The most recent research, however, has not found viscosupplementation to be effective at significantly reducing pain or improving function. Although some patients report pain relief with the procedure, others are not helped by the injections.1
Viscosupplementation therapy for the knee via intra-articular injections of hyaluronic preparations will be considered medically reasonable and necessary when ALL of the following conditions are met:
- The patient is symptomatic. Such symptoms may include pain which interferes with the activities of daily living such as ambulation and prolonged standing, or pain interrupting sleep, crepitus, and/or knee stiffness.
- The clinical diagnosis is supported by radiologic evidence of osteoarthritis of the knee such as joint space narrowing, subchondral sclerosis, osteophytes and sub-chondral cysts.
- If appropriate, other diagnoses have been excluded by appropriate evaluation and management services, laboratory and imaging studies (i.e., the pain and functional disability is not considered likely to be due to a diagnosis other than osteoarthritis of the knee).
- The patient has failed at least three months of conservative therapy. Conservative therapy is defined as:
- Nonpharmacologic therapy (such as but not limited to home exercise program, education, weight loss, physical therapy if indicated); and
- If not contraindicated, simple analgesics and (e.g., acetaminophen) or NSAIDS per hyaluronan product prescribing information.
- The patient has failed to respond to aspiration of the knee when effusion is present and intra-articular corticosteroid injection therapy when inflammation is a significant component of the patient’s symptoms and intra-articular corticosteroids are not contraindicated.
A repeat series* of hyaluronan knee injection(s) for patients who have responded to a prior series is considered to be reasonable and necessary under the following circumstances:
- Symptoms have recurred
- At least six months have elapsed since the prior series of injections
- There was significant improvement in pain and functional capacity achieved with the prior series of injections using a standardized assessment tool
- There is significant reduction in the doses of NSAID medications taken or reduction in the number of intra-articular steroid injections to the knees during the six-month period following the injection(s).
*Note: A series is defined as a set of injections for each joint and each treatment (initial or repeat).
The following are considered not reasonable and necessary and therefore will be denied:
- Drugs and biologicals and other products approved for marketing by the FDA are considered safe and effective when used for indications specified on the labeling. The labeling lists the safe and effective, i.e., medically reasonable and necessary dosage and frequency. Therefore, doses and frequencies that exceed the accepted standard of recommended dosage and/or frequency, as described in the package insert, are considered not reasonable and necessary and therefore, not subject to coverage.
- Intra-articular injections of other therapeutic agents, such as corticosteroids, should not be performed in the same knee during the course of viscosupplementation therapy unless there is documented medical necessity (e.g., for documented reactions requiring the use of the additional therapeutic agent).
- Viscosupplementation of joints other than the knee(s) are considered not reasonable and necessary and are not subject to coverage.
- Imaging procedures (e.g., arthrography, CT scan, MRI) for the purpose of visualization of the knee to provide guidance for needle placement are considered not medically reasonable and necessary and will not be covered. The only imaging procedures that may be considered reasonable and necessary for the purpose of needle guidance for viscosupplementation are fluoroscopy or ultrasound. If needle guidance is utilized, the documentation must support that the presentation of the patient’s affected knee on the day of the procedure makes needle insertion problematic. Routine use of fluoroscopy or ultrasound guidance may result in a pre-payment medical review of records. No other imaging modality for the purpose of needle guidance and placement will be covered. The imaging modality used for the purpose of needle guidance must be reported appropriately and in conjunction with the appropriate intra-articular injection procedure code for the knee. For coding information on the use of imaging procedures with viscosupplementation of the knee, please refer to the companion Article A55036, Billing and Coding: Hyaluronan Acid Therapies for Osteoarthritis of the Knee.
- If the hyaluronan preparation is denied, then any associated procedure code(s) (e.g., intra-articular injection, fluoroscopy, ultrasound) would be considered not medically reasonable and necessary.
- The course of treatment must consist of the use of one agent for the entire course of treatment. Therefore, initiating a course of treatment with one agent, then switching before completion to a different agent is considered not medically reasonable and necessary. Example: Treatment is initiated with Synvisc. After the application of two doses, the provider switches to Synvisc-One. The Synvisc-One would not be considered medically reasonable and necessary.
- Coverage of viscosupplementation therapy of the knee assumes that knee arthroplasty is not being considered as a current treatment option.
- Viscosupplementation is considered not medically reasonable and necessary following total or partial knee arthroplasty.
- Viscosupplementation is considered not medically reasonable and necessary at the end of a knee surgical procedure or during the postoperative period following a knee surgical procedure (e.g., anterior cruciate ligament [ACL] reconstruction or arthroscopic meniscectomy). It would be expected that use of viscosupplementation would not be initiated until after the patient has made a full recovery from the knee surgery (individualized for each patient); and the patient is symptomatic with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis; and clinical presentation meets the covered indications as stated.
- Viscosupplementation is considered not medically reasonable and necessary and will not be covered for the any of the following:
- When the diagnosis is anything other than osteoarthritis
- As the initial treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee
- When failure of/or contraindication to conservative therapy and/or corticosteroid injections are not documented in the medical record
- When a repeat series of injections is initiated prior to six months after completion of the previous course of treatment
- When a repeat series of injections is administered when there was no symptomatic/functional improvement evidenced from the previous series of injections
- Topical application of hyaluronate preparations
Services will be considered medically reasonable and necessary only if both of the following criteria are met:
- All aspects of the procedure and its related care are within the scope of practice of the provider’s professional licensure; and
- All procedures are performed by appropriately trained providers in the appropriate setting. Patient safety and quality of care mandate that healthcare professionals who perform intra-articular injections for treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee are appropriately trained and are competent to perform all aspects of these procedures safely and effectively. The core curriculum of any training program should include the performance and management of the procedures addressed in this policy with documentation of trainee competency assessment included by formal examination and case history document review.
*At a minimum, training must cover and develop an understanding of anatomy and drug pharmacodynamics and kinetics, proficiency in evaluation, diagnosis and management of diseases necessitating the procedures, technical performance of the procedure and performing and interpreting medically reasonable imaging modalities required for procedure performance (imaging technique, contrast material use, and image interpretation) as well as the evaluation, diagnosis and management of potential complications from the intervention.
Acceptable training or certification may be evidenced by any one of the following means:
- Satisfactory completion of an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or American Osteopathic Association (AOA) accredited residency and/or fellowship program in a relevant specialty; or
- Board certification in a relevant specialty by an American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) member board or equivalent AOA board; or
- Satisfactory completion of an accredited non-physician practitioner educational program that provides substantially equal content and scope as those mentioned in bullets 1 or 2 above and includes the minimum requirements stated in the preceding paragraph (see * above), with trainee competency directly assessed by state licensure examination or certification examination by a nationally recognized accrediting agency and maintenance of a case log of procedures performed; or
- Demonstration of satisfactory performance of the specific services in this policy on a regular basis over the five years immediately preceding implementation of this policy. Medicare considers an average of ten services per month to meet this requirement, and may be substantiated by Medicare or other payer claim history supported by patient medical records of appropriate care, procedural performance and outcomes.
Reimbursement for procedures utilizing imaging may be made to providers who meet training requirements for the procedures in this policy when permitted under relevant state professional practice acts.
Documentation of training and licensures must be made available to Medicare upon request.
Please refer to the Local Coverage Article: Billing and Coding: Hyaluronan Acid Therapies for Osteoarthritis of the Knee, A55036, for coding guidelines and drug wastage information.
Notice: Services performed for any given diagnosis must meet all of the indications and limitations stated in this policy, the general requirements for medical necessity as stated in CMS payment policy manuals, any and all existing CMS national coverage determinations, and all Medicare payment rules.
The redetermination process may be utilized for consideration of services performed outside of the reasonable and necessary requirements in this LCD.