For a Better Life


How To Get Insurance To Cover Lipedema Surgery

Navigating the healthcare system can be a daunting task, especially when seeking treatment for conditions like lipedema. Recognized for its complexity and often misdiagnosed, lipedema is a chronic condition characterized by an abnormal accumulation of fat cells in the legs and arms, leading to pain, swelling, and mobility issues. As we observe World Lymphedema Day in March, it’s an opportune time to shed light on the importance of understanding and managing lipedema, including the critical aspect of securing insurance coverage for its treatments.

Understanding Lipedema and Its Treatment

Lipedema is often misunderstood and can be mistaken for obesity or lymphedema, but it’s a distinct condition requiring specific treatment approaches. Key treatments include conservative methods like manual lymphatic drainage, compression therapy, and carefully tailored exercise programs. In more advanced cases, liposuction and lymph-sparing procedures are recommended to remove the diseased fat cells and alleviate symptoms.

The Challenge of Insurance Coverage

One of the most significant hurdles for patients with lipedema is getting insurance companies to cover the cost of surgeries. Many insurers classify lipedema surgery as cosmetic rather than medically necessary, leaving patients to bear the financial burden. However, with persistence, the right approach, and armed with evidence, it’s possible to secure coverage for these essential procedures.

Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Insurance to Cover Lipedema Surgeries

1. Understand Your Insurance Policy

Begin by thoroughly reviewing your insurance policy to understand what treatments and surgeries it covers.  You will need to look at your insurance plan’s summary of plan benefits. You can obtain a copy of the plan summary through your insurance portal or your employer’s HR [ Human Resource ] representative. Look for exclusion for cosmetic surgeries as they often lump lipedema surgery in with cosmetic surgery.  Look for any clauses related to chronic conditions, obesity-related treatments, and reconstructive surgeries. Also, look for exclusion for special services. Knowing the ins and outs of your policy will help you build a strong case for coverage.

2. Understand Medical Necessity Criteria

If you have coverage, each insurance company has different medical necessity criteria that must be met for the company to even consider approving prior authorization.  Often, these requirements include a certain BMI (or previous bariatric surgery with weight loss or medically supervised weight loss program) and trial of conservative measures, including the medial grade compression use, exercise, and manual lymph drainage.  Some also include functional assessment of disability, intermittent pneumatic compression pumps, and secondary diagnosing physicians.  

3. Rule Out Other Conditions

Getting a proper diagnosis is crucial. Several other diseases need to be excluded, including other lipomatosis [fat diseases such as Dercum’s and Madelung’s disease], lymphedema, and venous diseases such as pelvic venous compression. Several of the venous diseases that can look like lipedema should be excluded with a venous Doppler ultrasound and another test if indicated.  Sometimes lipedema can coexist with obesity and/or lymphedema and/or venous disease. Each disease needs a different treatment. Failure to recognize the associated diseases can cause ineffective treatment and frustrated patients. 

4. Consult With Specialists

Consult with specialists, who are experienced and knowledgeable about lipedema. These professionals can provide detailed assessments, treatment plans, and supporting letters that emphasize the medical necessity of the surgery. Their expert opinions can be influential in convincing insurance companies of the need for coverage.  Generally, these are vascular/venous and lymphatic specialists who focus on lipedema and lymphedema.

5. Prepare a Detailed Treatment Plan

Detailed documentation of treatment is essential, including conservative treatments attempted, their outcomes, and the rationale for surgery. This plan should illustrate the comprehensive approach to managing your lipedema and why surgery is recommended.

Work with your healthcare provider to gather medical records, diagnostic tests, and letters of necessity. These documents clearly state that the surgery is essential for your health and not merely for cosmetic purposes.

6. Submit to insurance

If you are planning to use insurance, your surgeon should submit all of your documentation to your health insurance for “ prior authorization” ahead of your surgery. 

7. Appeal Denials

If your initial claim is denied, don’t lose hope. Many patients succeed upon appeal. Carefully review the insurance company’s reason for denial and address these points in your appeal letter. Include additional documentation and expert opinions if necessary. Persistence is key, as several rounds of appeals may be required.  Your surgeon can appeal the ruling.  

You may consider using an additional resource such as an ERISA attorney, insurance advocate or a patient advocate.  If you decide to use a patient advocate – be careful! 

In the United States, there is an unregulated space where people describe themselves as patient advocates.

While some of these self-appointed patient advocates are helpful and ethical, other self-appointed advocates are duplicitous and attack patients and providers who do not recommend or refer for their costly services.  

Reach Out For Help Today!

Securing insurance coverage for lipedema surgery is a challenging but not insurmountable task. It requires patience, thorough preparation, and a proactive approach. As we recognize World Lymphedema Day, let’s also acknowledge the importance of advocating for comprehensive care and support for those living with lipedema. By following the steps outlined above and leveraging available resources, you can increase your chances of getting insurance to cover your lipedema surgeries, paving the way for a healthier and more comfortable life.

Remember, your health is worth fighting for. With the right strategy, persistence, and support, you can navigate the complexities of insurance coverage for lipedema treatment and take a significant step toward managing your condition effectively.