National Heritage Insurance Company (NHIC), the contractor that administers Medicare programs in California, has established a positive coverage policy for Cell Culture Assay Tests known as Chemosensitivity (Resistance) Testing or Oncologic In Vitro Chemoresponse Assays for a tumor specimen from a Medicare patient obtained anywhere within the United States, but submitted for testing by one of the approved laboratories located within Southern California. Medicare bills for this testing are billed through NHIC because the test is conducted by the approved laboratories in California.
This pre-test can help see what treatments have the best opportunity of being successful for "high" risk cancer patients. The test measures the response of "live" tumor cells to drug exposure. Following this exposure, the assays measure both cell metabolism and cell morphology (Functional Profiling). The integrated effect of the drugs on the whole cell, resulting in a cellular response to the drug, measuring the interaction of the entire genome. Assays based on "cell-death" occur in the entire population of tumor cells.
This cell culture assay technology has been clinically validated for the selection of optimal chemotherapy regimens for individual patients. It is a laboratory analysis based on tumor tissue profiling that uses "fresh" human tumor biopsy or surgical specimen to determine which drugs or combinations of chemotherapeutic agents have the highest likelihood of response for individual cancer patients.
Following the collection of "fresh" tumor cells obtained from surgery or tru-cut needle biopsies, a cell culture assay is performed on the tumor sample to measure drug activity (sensitivity and resistance). This will pinpoint which drug(s) are most effective. Tissue, blood, bone marrow, and ascites and pleural effusions are possibilities, providing tumor cells are present. At least one gram of fresh tissue is needed to perform the tests, and a special kit is obtained in advance from the lab. The treatment program developed through this approach is known as assay-directed therapy.
Individualized assay-directed therapy is based on the premise that each patient's cancer cells are unique and therefore will respond differently to a given treatment. This is in stark contrast to standard or empiric therapy, which chemotherapy for a specific patient is based on average population studies from prior clinical trials.
The decision had been made that the assay is a perfectly appropriate medical service, worthy of coverage on a non-investigational basis. What is of particular significance is that they abandoned the artificial distinction between "resistance" testing and "sensitivity" testing and are providing coverage for the whole FDA-approved kit. Drug "sensitivity" testing is merely a point a little farther along on the very same continuum which "resistance" testing resides.
Cell cuture assay tests based on "cell-death" have proven very effective in identifying novel treatment combinations for a variety of cancers. The value of cell-death assays is that they can and do accurately predict clinical outcomes and define novel chemotherapeutic synergies. It can help see what treatments will not have the best opportunity of being successful (resistant) and identify drugs that have the best opportunity of being successful (sensitive).
The current clinical applications of in vitro chemosensitivity testing is ever more important with the influx of new "targeted" therapies. Given the technical and conceptual advantages of "functional profiling" of cell culture assays together with their performance and the modest efficacy for therapy prediction on analysis of genome expression, there is reason for renewed interest in these assays for optimized use of medical treatment of malignant disease.
The payment provided will be sufficiently realistic that all Medicare patients for whom this testing is indicated will be able to get it with only the routine 20% co-payment, as Medi-gap insurance secondaries are mandated to provide payment for co-pays for Medicare-approved services.
The coverage became effective for claims for services performed on or after February 19, 2007. The decision is posted at:
NHIC Medicare Services reimburses qualified laboratories in Southern California for cell culture assay tests on a Medicare patient anywhere in the United States.
Likewise, Highmark Medicare Services reimburses a qualified laboratory in Pennsylvania for cell culture assay tests on a Medicare patient anywhere in the United States.
NHIC has jurisdiction over Southern California, so that is who gets billed when the laboratory is located in California.
Highmark has jurisdiction over laboratories in Pennsylvania, so that is who gets billed when the laboratory is located in Pennsylvania.
The coverage decision is posted at: