How Does The Drainless Tummy Tuck Work?

Q: Dr. Eppley, Do you do the “drainless” tummy tuck surgery? Also, I have an umbilical hernia and am looking to have both procedures done simultaneously. Can this be done on the billing end so that insurance will cover the hernia repair, anesthesia, facility charges, etc and I self-pay the abdominoplasty procedure?

A: Thank you for your inquiry. Let me provide you with some clarification and additional insight in both your tummy tuck questions about a ‘drainless’ technique and the financial implications about doing combined medical necessary and cosmetic abdominal wall procedures.

I have done numerous drainless tummy tucks and there is an understandable appeal to it because of the absence of a drain. But there is more to it than just not putting in a drain. There has to be some additional steps done to close down the internal dead space and seal the wounds to prevent a seroma (fluid collection) after surgery. Drainless tummy tucks can be done by either using internal quilting sutures or a tissue glue prior to closure of the tummy tuck incision. These steps do take additional time (an extra 1/2 hour of operative time) and materials (tissue glues can cost up to $1,000) to do and thus the drainless tummy tuck is going to cost more than one in which a drain is used. A drain is a simple and quick method to manage potential seromas and also keeps the cost down. Thus one has to place a value on how much avoiding the drain is worth. And drainless tummy tucks do not have a complete absence of problematic serums afterwards, there is not a 100% guarantee that you would not get a seroma even with these maneuvers.

In what seems like a straightforward issue historically, the separation of a medical necessary procedure like a hernia repair and a cosmetic procedure like a tummy tuck should be simple. But in today’s health insurance world it is not. The first common erroneous perception is that somehow insurance is going to pay for the operative room and anesthesia charges for the tummy tuck portion of the procedure…and they will not. No facility will allow that to happen anymore so that all charges related to the tummy tuck portion of the combined procedure including operating room, anesthesia and any supplies used must be paid out of pocket and in advance of the procedure. While ‘sliding’ the operating room and anesthesia costs of the cosmetic portion of the procedure onto insurance was common practice 10 to 20 years ago, that is no longer permitted and is actually illegal today.

While there is no question that a hernia repair and a tummy tuck should be done together, and this is common practice, you have to look carefully at the cost issues to see what works in your best financial interest. Your insurance is going to require in almost all cases (with the exception of Anthem and a few other private carriers) that your hernia repair be done in a hospital or a hospital-owned facility. Such a facility may or may not have reasonable cosmetic fee usage costs. They will in most cases be higher than a private non-hospital owned surgical facility. Depending upon the difference in cosmetic costs between the two types of facilities will determine whether the combined hernia repair-tummy tuck is done through insurance using their required facility or whether it is just better to pay all of pocket for both procedures. (I have certainly seen that be the case many times) Each patient and what insurance carrier they have has to be considered on an individual basis.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana