Health insurers are taking another look at power morcellators, surgical tools that were once a popular option for women undergoing hysterectomies and myomectomies to remove uterine fibroids. According to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal, a growing number of health insurance companies are responding to concerns that the devices can spread uterine cancer by limiting coverage for morcellator procedures.

“Plans are looking very seriously at this,” Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s main trade group, told the Journal.

FDA Morcellator Alerts

Over the past year, power morcellators have been the subject of two safety alerts from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Last April, the agency discouraged doctors from using the devices in uterine surgery because of the potential that they can spread undetected uterine cancer cells as they shred tissue into small pieces. Then in November, the FDA went even further and warned that the devices should not be used in the vast majority of women who need hysterectomies and myomectomies, and ordered that boxed warnings be added to product labeling regarding the potential for morcellators to spread undiagnosed uterine cancers.

The FDA acted after a review determined that 1 in 350 women undergoing fibroid removal surgery actually have uterine sarcomas, which is far higher than previously thought. Unfortunately, there is no reliable way to screen for these cancers prior to surgery, and dissemination of the cells will significantly reduce a woman’s chances for long-term survival.

Several insurers, including Highmark, Inc. UPMC Health Plan, and UnitedHealthGroup, have already stopped covering morcellation. And according to the Journal, a number of others, including Aetna, Cigna and Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC) are considering limits on such coverage.

“We recognize that organizations like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration identified potential risks around the use of power morcellation,” HCSC’s vice president for medical policy told the Journal.

That company is considering a proposal to deem power morcellation “not medically necessary,” which would preclude coverage in most cases. If the policy is finalized, it would apply to HCSC’s five Blue Cross and Blue Shield units in Texas, Illinois, Montana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, the Journal said.

Morcellator Cancer Litigation

The controversy surrounding uterine morcellation has spawned a number of legal actions against power morcellator manufacturers, who are accused of failing to warn patients and doctors of their potential to spread undiagnosed uterine malignancies. The first trial involving a power morcellator lawsuit is expected to go to trial in Pennsylvania federal court in November.

Bernstein Liebhard LLP offers free case reviews to victims of uterine cancers that may have been worsened by a power morcellator. To learn if you qualify to file a morcellator lawsuit, please call our office at 1-877-779-1414 to talk with a member of our legal staff.

Published April 8, 2015 by