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General Surgery Coding Alert

Bariatric Surgery: Obesity-Related Conditions Key to Reimbursement

- Published on Wed, May 01, 2002
Bariatric surgery, typically performed on morbidly and super-obese individuals, includes any procedure that aims to restrict food intake. Although it is highly specialized and involves significant risk, Medicare and many other carriers will not pay for it simply because the patient is obese.

Carriers are more likely to pay if the patient has other obesity-related conditions that are identified clearly in the surgeon's notes, says Anne Karl, RHIA, CPC, CCS-P, compliance coordinator with Surgical Consultants, a 10-surgeon practice in Edina, Minn. These conditions include, among others, congestive heart failure, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus and its manifestations, sleep apnea, severe arthritis, hypothyroidism and lung disease. Surgical Techniques Banding: Codes 43842 (Gastric restrictive procedure, without gastric bypass, for morbid obesity; vertical-banded gastroplasty) and 43843 ( other than vertical-banded gastroplasty) describe older procedures that involve "banding" and are rarely performed in conjunction with gastric bypass, says Marcella Bucknam, CPC, a general surgery coding and reimbursement specialist and a coding instructor at Clarkson College in Omaha, Neb. Stomach Stapling: Codes 43846 (Gastric restrictive procedure, with gastric bypass for morbid obesity; with short limb [less than 100 cm] Roux-en-Y gastroen-terostomy) and 43847 ( with small intestine reconstruction to limit absorption) are used to report procedures that are considered the current "gold standard" in bariatric surgery. Code 43846 involves partitioning the stomach (usually with staples) and connecting the small intestine to the proximal stomach. Commonly known as stomach stapling, this procedure allows food to bypass most of the stomach.

Code 43847 involves rerouting of the small bowel to limit food absorption and is used to describe services that may not have been as prevalent when the code was developed, such as biliary pancreatic diversion (when the bile ducts and pancreatic ducts are reattached to the ileum so digestion of fats is significantly delayed). This procedure is often performed with a near-total gastrectomy and Roux-en-Y intestinal anastomosis with a long roux limb, which is coded 43621 (Gastrectomy, total; with Roux-en-Y reconstruction). The small bowel reconstruction and biliary pancreatic diversion is reported using 43847. Code 43848 (Revision of gastric restrictive procedure for morbid obesity [separate procedure]) is reported when the surgeon has to operate again on a patient who has had a previous gastric restrictive procedure (for example, stomach banding or stomach stapling). Typically, the surgeon mobilizes the stomach and then performs 43846 or 43847. Complications, such as slipped bands from a banded gastro-plasty, are dealt with during the same session. Additional Documentation May Be Required In addition to evidence of obesity-related conditions, carriers may also want evidence that the patient has an established history of unsuccessful dieting attempts. They may even require that the patient undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine that he or she does not have [...]

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