Does Insurance Cover Limb Lengthening Surgery? (Exceptions & Insight)

Written by Joshua Leaf | Updated on November 2, 2021

If you dream about adding few inches to your height, you might be wondering, does insurance cover any part of cosmetic limb lengthening? Though this surgery can be helpful for people with extreme insecurity over their height or height dysphoria, it’s generally expensive and not covered by health insurance.

There are some exceptions and caveats, though. Read on to get an idea about what some patients have gotten covered in the past as well as how to get insurance companies to tell you what might be paid for a specific policy, including possible estimates.

Why Doesn’t Insurance Cover Limb Lengthening?

Since leg lengthening surgery is an elective cosmetic procedure akin to plastic surgery, it’s not considered medically necessary, and insurance doesn’t cover it. Almost every surgeon requires the patient to pay the total amount beforehand.

Even if a person’s short stature causes extreme psychological distress, insurance companies still cannot justify it as a necessary medical procedure unless there’s an underlying reason such as dwarfism, lower limb discrepancy, severe bow legs etc.

How Much Does Limb Lengthening Cost?

At the Paley Orthopedic & Spine Institute, height surgery can cost $97,500 to $280,000, depending on the number of surgeries and which bone the surgeon operates on. This amount includes everything from the first consultation to post-surgery PT.[1]

The surgery is much more affordable in other countries, but it’s generally considered riskier to go with a lesser-known, inexperienced, or doctor in a foreign country.

PT by itself can be very costly at $1,500-$3,000, and removal of the internal nail can be up to $15,000. Other places in the US that offer this surgery will have a similar price tag.

Will Insurance Cover Limb Lengthening if I Have a Leg Length Discrepancy?

Insurance might cover stature lengthening in the case of a discrepancy, but there’s no guarantee. It entirely depends on the severity of the diagnosis and health insurance policies. The insurance company may also base its decision on the patient’s diagnosis or the specialist’s recommendation.

However, if the discrepancy is less than 2-5 cm, the orthopedic surgeon might recommend leg shortening instead. Shortening is a quicker procedure with a quicker recovery time and may be covered by insurance depending on the company.[2]

Leg shortening can’t correct deformities, but it’s a good option for correcting leg length discrepancies if insurance doesn’t cover lengthening. Trauma fractures are likely to be covered and use similar technology, but this is to realign the bone, not to increase height.

Will Insurance Cover Any Expenses?

Insurance generally won’t cover anything, but there is a chance that physical therapy, medications, or home-aid might be covered. Patients are either given a referral for physical therapy by the surgeon or have sessions at the same hospital.

On the other hand, bone lengthening patients must go through very intensive PT, and they may only be prescribed up to five sessions per week, depending on their mobility before surgery and the amount lengthened. Patients can always request more physical therapy, but the costs can add up quickly. With the level of physical therapy required, it’s even less likely insurance will cover it.

Assistive equipment like walkers, crutches, or wheelchairs might be covered by insurance, too, depending on whether the provider sees them as medically necessary. Any procedure complications that arise during or after elongation are much more likely to be covered than the initial surgery itself since most companies would see these procedures as medically necessary.

Since insurance isn’t guaranteed to help even for complications, top doctors recommend that patients keep an extra $30,000 in case complications arise.

What Complications Could Be Covered?

If the institute or hospital is in-network for their insurance policy, insurance might be more likely to cover the following complications depending on the given plan’s explanation of benefits (EOB):

  • Additional surgery to free tight muscles
  • Compressed nerves
  • Bones joined or healed incorrectly – malunions
  • Unhealed bones – Non-unions
  • Broken bones
  • Blood clots – deep vein thrombosis

Insurances may also cover other rarer complications like fat embolisms.  It’s best to talk about the risks of surgery and how one can promote safety with the doctor well in advance.

How to Find Out if Insurance Will Cover Anything

Every healthcare plan is different, so it can never hurt to ask.

Firstly, we suggest examining the policies explanation of benefits (E.O.B.) to determine what’s covered. This can save time and be requested or found online. Secondly, it’s worth contacting a patient advocate or surgery planner of the performing physician. They can often get quotes or see what’s covered, but whether or not they will help depends on their capacity or how the office operates.

Alternatively, potential patients may ask the doctors for all billing codes involved with the procedure and potential complications. Once obtained, the individual can call to provide those codes to the insurance provider to see if anything is covered and possible estimations.

They may be hesitant to provide information, but be persistent. Ultimately, this may be more trouble than it’s worth, but it is an option.

Will Cosmetic Limb Lengthening Ever Be Covered by Insurance?

Cosmetic limb lengthening is very unlikely to be covered anytime soon. In the future, though, as an understanding of heightism and legislation surrounding it potentially expands, there’s a small chance insurance will cover such a procedure.

One area where legislation has already progressed to this point is gender confirmation surgeries for those who are transgender. Since sex is a federally protected class, the law might consider insurance companies denying transition surgeries unlawful discrimination based on sex.[3]

Cosmetic leg lengthening isn’t a guaranteed cure to height dysphoria, but it may help to a large extent. As scientists carry out more research on heightism, dysphoria, and body dysmorphia, elective surgeries to alleviate these may gain legislation recognition and become more widely covered by insurance.

When it comes to equal opportunity employment in the US, asking about a person’s height or weight is illegal unless it’s a bonafide requirement for the position. Therefore, there’s already loose federal legislation in place about height and weight, but this doesn’t extend to insurance since height isn’t a protected group.

In some states like Michigan, discriminating based on height when it comes to employment is explicitly illegal.[4] This legislation only marks the beginning of a new generation of laws. If stature becomes a federally protected class, insurance companies just might cover height increasing surgery for those with dysphoria or body dysmorphic disorder.

Yet, we admit this is all hypothetical since heightism is still under-recognized.

Do I Have Any Other Options to Pay?

Many institutes offer monthly payment plans through a loan service so patients can achieve their dream height without the initial upfront costs.

It may be worth speaking to a financial advisor to determine if a loan is feasible for anyone looking into this procedure.

Height surgery has as high as 95% success rates, so it may be worth considering to alleviate any mental distress. Still, we must stress the importance of understanding all risks involved and choosing a great surgeon.[5]

Each patient should consider all aspects involved so they can make an informed decision. In any case, seeking therapy may be a viable solution if the surgery costs too much or to simply try a more holistic solution. Again, consult both the doctor’s office and the insurance provider before making such a commitment.

References

[1] Paley Institute. (2015, September 26). Costs & Financial Considerations. Paley Orthopedic & Spine Institute. https://paleyinstitute.org/centers-of-excellence/stature-lengthening/costs-financial-considerations/#/

[2] Paley Institute. (2018, September 5). Limb Length Discrepancies. Paley Orthopedic & Spine Institute. https://paleyinstitute.org/blog/conditions/multiple-hereditary-exostoses/treatment-strategies/limb-length-discrepancies/#/

[3] HealthCare.gov. (2015, December 30). Transgender health care. HealthCare.gov. https://www.healthcare.gov/transgender-health-care/

[4] The State of Michigan. (2012). ELLIOTT-LARSEN CIVIL RIGHTS ACT [PDF]. Michigan.gov. https://www.michigan.gov/documents/act_453_elliott_larsen_8772_7.pdf

[5] Rozbruch, S. R. (2020, April 28). Limb Lengthening – An Overview. HSS. https://www.hss.edu/conditions_limb-lengthening-overview.asp

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