Hui Jenny Chen, MD and Michelle Gabriel, MS, MBA
(This blog is adapted from our recent publication A Roadmap from Idea to Implementation: 3D Printing for Pre-Surgical Application: Operational Management for 3D Printing in Surgery)

Healthcare is a highly regulated industry. Understanding local healthcare market and reimbursement strategy is essential to the survival and growth of any new medical technology. In order to be eventually viable financially, most U.S. 3D printing service providers need to answer two questions:

How is the service paid now?

There is currently no established stand-alone reimbursement process for pre-surgical planning 3D printing service. Occasionally, services provided by established 3D printing companies such as 3DSystems/Medical Modeling (Denver, U.S.A.) can get paid indirectly by their contracts with a medical device company, who bills third-party payers for the cost of the medical device which includes 3D printing services.

For example, craniofacial reconstruction surgeons will use the pre-surgical planning 3D printed models and/or cutting guide made by Medical Modeling, Inc. (3DSystems, Denver, U.S.A.), who has a contract with Stryker. Stryker bundles 3D printing services under a single medical device fee, and the hospital bills third-party payers for it. (Figure 1)

current 3D printing reimbursement process

Figure 1. An example of current 3D printing reimbursement process (arrows represent direction of payment)

The result of such bundled billing is a lack of cost transparency. As the interest in 3D printing for surgical planning grows, however, more providers are now willing to pay out-of-pocket either at full price or at a negotiated price with 3D printing companies directly for similar services, bypassing any third-party (Figure 2). There is a trend towards more existing commercial 3D printing service providers venturing into the pre-surgical 3D printing arena. For example, Anatomics (St Kilda, Australia), 3D Ops (Tennessee, USA), and Whiteclouds (Utah, USA).

future 3D printing reimbursement process

Figure 2. An example of future 3D printing reimbursement process (arrows represent direction of payment)

Additionally, a growing number of larger healthcare organizations and academic hospitals, such as the Harvard hospitals, Mayo Clinic, and Cleveland Clinic have dedicated significant internal research and development grants to develop in-house 3D printing centers. However, payers currently do not reimburse expenses for 3D printing at all if performed “in-house” or “in-office”. Thus, currently, 3D printing service appears to add costs to the overhead of health care facilities. Some have suggested potential cost savings for the hospital to provide 3D printing service as part of the surgical care, but these remain to be anecdotal [27].

How will the service be paid in the future?

For either “in house” and “outsourced” 3D printing services to be paid consistently, future work must be done to a have a procedural terminology (CPT) code created and the associated professional and facility fee assigned. The reimbursement for the physician and hospital services would then need to be negotiated with payers, insurance groups and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). [27] To achieve such “code-able” status by the AMA (American Medical Association) [48], the procedure must be officially recognized as part of patient care, which has demonstrated sufficient clinical evidence that the procedure improves patient outcomes.

Although many recent papers have documented significant improvements associated with multiple outcome metrics including reducing operating time and surgical accuracy [13], the results are still too early and too little to convince the payers. Another added challenge also includes lack of an advocacy entity for this purpose. However, this will likely change as the field matures.