Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Medical Policy


Medical Policy:
Endothelial Keratoplasty
Effective Date:
June 1, 2020
Issued Date:
May 31, 2021
Last Revision Date:
May 2020
Annual Review:
May 2021

This policy version was replaced May 30, 2022. To find the newest version, go to, read and accept the Blue Cross Medical Policy Statement, then select “Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Medical Policies.” This will bring up the Medical Policy search screen. Enter the policy number without the version number (last 3 digits).

The established surgical treatment for corneal disease is penetrating keratoplasty (PK), which involves the creation of a large central opening through the cornea and then filling the opening with full-thickness donor cornea that is sutured in place. Visual recovery after PK may take 1 year or more due to slow wound healing of the avascular full-thickness incision, and the procedure frequently results in irregular astigmatism due to sutures and the full-thickness vertical corneal wound. PK is associated with an increased risk of wound dehiscence, endophthalmitis, and total visual loss after relatively minor trauma for years after the index procedure. There is also the risk of severe, sight-threatening complications such as expulsive suprachoroidal hemorrhage, in which the ocular contents are expelled during the operative procedure, as well as postoperative catastrophic wound failure.

A number of related techniques have been, or are being, developed to selectively replace the diseased endothelial layer. Endothelial keratoplasty, also referred to as posterior lamellar keratoplasty, is a form of corneal transplantation in which the diseased inner layer of the cornea, the endothelium, is replaced with healthy donor tissue. Specific techniques include Descemet stripping endothelial keratoplasty (DSEK), Descemet stripping automated endothelial keratoplasty (DSAEK), Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK), and Descemet membrane automated endothelial keratoplasty (DMAEK). Endothelial keratoplasty, and particularly DSEK, DSAEK, DMEK, and DMAEK, are becoming standard procedures. Femtosecond laser-assisted endothelial keratoplasty (FLEK) and femtosecond and excimer laser-assisted endothelial keratoplasty (FELEK) have also been reported as alternatives to prepare the donor endothelium.


The Descemet membrane is a thin, elastic and transparent layer of tissue that covers the inner surface of the cornea and protects the cornea from invasive material.

Pseudophakic bullous keratopathy (PBK) and aphakic bullous keratopathy (ABK) are types of corneal edema that may result from complications of cataract surgery.

The corneal epithelium is a single layer of cells on the inner surface of the cornea.

This policy is designed to address medical guidelines that are appropriate for the majority of individuals with a particular disease, illness, or condition. Each person's unique clinical circumstances may warrant individual consideration, based on review of applicable medical records.

Policy Position Coverage is subject to the specific terms of the member's benefit plan.

I.   Endothelial keratoplasty (Descemet stripping endothelial keratoplasty, Descemet stripping automated endothelial keratoplasty, Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty [DMEK], or Descemet membrane automated endothelial keratoplasty) may be considered MEDICALLY NECESSARY AND APPROPRIATE for the treatment of endothelial failure. Causes include but are not limited to:

  • Ruptures in Descemet membrane;
  • Endothelial dystrophy;
  • Aphakic and pseudophakic bullous keratopathy;
  • Iridocorneal endothelial syndrome;
  • Corneal edema attributed to endothelial failure;
  • Failure or rejection of a previous corneal transplant.

II.  Endothelial keratoplasty is NOT MEDICALLY NECESSARY when endothelial dysfunction is not the primary cause of decreased corneal clarity, including but not limited to keratoconus.

III. Femtosecond laser-assisted endothelial keratoplasty (FLEK) or femtosecond and excimer laser-assisted endothelial keratoplasty (FELEK) are considered EXPERIMENTAL/INVESTIGATIVE for all indications due to the lack of clinical evidence demonstrating an impact on improved health outcomes.

65756 65757

Denial Statements

No additional statements.


Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota medical policies apply generally to all Blue Cross and Blue Plus plans and products. Benefit plans vary in coverage and some plans may not provide coverage for certain services addressed in the medical policies. When determining coverage, reference the member’s specific benefit plan, including exclusions and limitations.

Medicaid products may provide different coverage for certain services, which may be addressed in different policies. For Minnesota Health Care Program (MHCP) policies, please consult the MHCP Provider Manual website.

Medicare products may provide different coverage for certain services, which may be addressed in different policies. For Medicare National Coverage Determinations (NCD), Local Coverage Determinations (LCD), and/or Local Coverage Articles, please consult CMS, National Government Services, or CGS websites. 

Note that services with specific coverage criteria may be reviewed retrospectively to determine if criteria are being met. Retrospective denial of claims may result if criteria are not met.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota reserves the right to revise, update and/or add to its medical policies at any time without notice. Codes listed on this policy are included for informational purposes only and are subject to change without notice. Inclusion or exclusion of a code does not constitute or imply member coverage or provider reimbursement. 

These guidelines are the proprietary information of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. Any sale, copying or dissemination of the medical policies is prohibited; however, limited copying of medical policies is permitted for individual use.


CPT® codes copyright American Medical Association® 2022. All rights reserved.

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