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Chelation therapy, an established treatment for heavy metal toxicities, has been investigated for a variety of off-label applications, such as treatment of atherosclerosis, Alzheimer disease, and autism.
Chelation therapy is an established treatment for the removal of metal toxins by converting them to a chemically inert form that can be excreted in the urine. Chelation therapy comprises intravenous or oral administration of chelating agents that remove metal ions such as lead, aluminum, mercury, arsenic, zinc, iron, copper, and calcium from the body.
Specific chelating agents are used for particular heavy metal toxicities. For example, desferoxamine (not Food and Drug Administration [FDA]‒approved) is used for patients with iron toxicity, and calcium-EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is used for patients with lead poisoning. Note that disodium- EDTA is not recommended for acute lead poisoning due to the increased risk of death from hypocalcemia. Another class of chelating agents, called metal protein attenuating compounds (MPACs), is under investigation for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, which is associated with the disequilibrium of cerebral metals. Unlike traditional systemic chelators that bind and remove metals from tissues systemically, MPACs have subtle effects on metal homeostasis and abnormal metal interactions. In animal models of Alzheimer’s disease, they promote the solubilization and clearance of beta amyloid by binding its metal-ion complex, and also inhibit redox reactions that generate neurotoxic free radicals. MPACs therefore interrupt two putative pathogenic processes of Alzheimer’s disease. However, no MPACs have received FDA approval for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Chelation therapy also has been discussed as a treatment for other indications including atherosclerosis and autism. For example, EDTA chelation therapy has been proposed in patients with atherosclerosis as a method of decreasing obstruction in the arteries.
FDA approved calcium-EDTA (Versenate) for lowering blood lead levels among both pediatric and adult patients with lead poisoning. Succimer is approved for the treatment of lead poisoning in pediatric patients only. FDA approved disodium-EDTA for use in selected patients with hypercalcemia and for use in patients with heart rhythm problems due to intoxication with the drug, digitalis. In 2008, FDA withdrew approval of disodium-EDTA due to safety concerns and recommended that other forms of chelation therapy be used.
Several iron chelating agents are FDA-approved:
Chelation therapy is considered medically necessary when based on blood levels and used to treat the following:
Off-label applications of chelation therapy (see Policy Guidelines section for FDA-approved uses) are considered investigational, including, but not limited to:
There are a number of indications for chelation therapy that have received FDA approval and for which chelation therapy is considered standard of care treatment. These include:
For the last 2 bullet points, most patients should be treated with other modalities. Digitalis toxicity is currently treated in most patients with Fab monoclonal antibodies. FDA removed the approval for NaEDTA as chelation therapy due to safety concerns and recommended that other chelators be used. This was the most common chelation agent used to treat digitalis toxicity and hypercalcemia.
Suggested toxic or normal levels of select heavy metals are listed in Table 1. Reference standards for bismuth, chromium, and manganese were not identified and are not included in Table 1.
Table 1. Toxic or Normal Concentrations of Heavy Metals
a Hair analysis is useful to assess mercury exposure in epidemiologic studies. However, hair analysis in individual patients must be interpreted with consideration of the patient’s history, signs, and symptoms, and possible alternative explanations. Measurement of blood and urine mercury levels can exclude exogenous contamination; therefore, blood or urine mercury levels may be more robust measures of exposure in individual patients.
Investigative service is defined as the use of any treatment procedure, facility, equipment, drug, device, or supply not yet recognized by certifying boards and/or approving or licensing agencies or published peer review criteria as standard, effective medical practice for the treatment of the condition being treated and as such therefore is not considered medically necessary.
The coverage guidelines outlined in the Medical Policy Manual should not be used in lieu of the Member's specific benefit plan language.
POLICY HISTORY5/2000: Approved by Medical Policy Advisory Committee (MPAC)
5/23/2001: Code reference section revised, ICD-9 diagnosis code 174.0-174.9, 175.0-175.9, 198.1, 233.0, 909.5, 973.0 added covered codes, non-covered table added, ICD-9 diagnosis code 250.0X-250.9X, 251.0-251.3, 331.0, 340, 390-459.9, 714.0-714.9, 716.9X, 998.89 added non-covered codes
2/14/2002: Investigational definition added
4/18/2002: Type of Service and Place of Service deleted
11/4/2004: Code Reference section updated, ICD-9 diagnosis code 174.0-174.9, 175.0-175.9, 198.1, 233.0 deleted covered codes, ICD-9 diagnosis 790.6, 796.0, 961.2, 985.8 added covered codes, ICD-9 diagnosis 973.0 description revised covered codes, non-covered table deleted, ICD-9 diagnosis code 250.0X-250.9X, 251.0-251.3, 331.0, 340, 390-459.9, 714.0-714.9, 716.9X, 998.
1/6/2009: Policy reviewed, policy section re-written for clarity
06/22/2010: Policy description updated regarding available chelating agents. Reworded the policy statement regarding Wilson’s disease. Added “includes rheumatoid arthritis” to the investigational policy statement for arthritis, and added autism as an investigational application. Deleted outdated references from the Sources section. Added ICD-9 code 275.42.
10/14/2010: Annual ICD-9 code update: 275.0 deleted/expanded to the fifth digit. Added 275.02 and 275.09 to the Covered Codes table.
06/22/2011: Policy reviewed; no changes.
05/09/2012: Policy reviewed; no changes.
05/07/2013: Removed deleted ICD-9 diagnosis code 275.0 from the Code Reference section. Also deleted 275.09 from the Code Reference section. Added 985.0 and 985.1 to the Code Reference section.
11/15/2013: Added treatment of chronic iron overload due to nontransfusion-dependent thalassemia (NDTD) as a medically necessary condition. Investigational statement on atherosclerosis updated to include coronary artery disease, secondary prevention in patients with myocardial infarction, or peripheral vascular disease.
08/08/2014: Policy title changed from "Chelation Therapy" to "Chelation Therapy for Off-Label Uses." Policy description updated regarding chelating agents. Investigational policy statement revised to change "Other" to "Off-label" and remove "Hypertension" from the list. Policy guidelines updated to add chelation therapy indications and information regarding suggested toxic or normal levels of select heavy metals.
SOURCE(S)Blue Cross Blue Shield association policy #8.01.02
CODE REFERENCEThis may not be a comprehensive list of procedure codes applicable to this policy.
The code(s) listed below are ONLY medically necessary if the procedure is performed according to the "Policy" section of this document.