BlueCross and BlueShield of Montana Medical Policy/Codes
Heart and Lung Transplant
Chapter: Transplant
Current Effective Date: December 27, 2013
Original Effective Date: July 09, 2008
Publish Date: September 27, 2013
Revised Dates: March 1, 2010; February 16, 2012; November 27, 2012; September 11, 2013

The heart and lung transplantation involves a coordinated triple operative procedure consisting of procurement of a donor heart-lung block, excision of the heart and lungs of the recipient, and implantation of the heart and lungs into the recipient. A heart and lung transplantation refers to the transplantation of one or both lungs and heart from a single cadaver donor.


Combined heart and lung transplantation is intended to prolong survival and improve function in patients with end-stage cardiac and pulmonary diseases. The majority of recipients have Eisenmenger syndrome (37%), followed by idiopathic pulmonary artery hypertension (28%) and cystic fibrosis (14%). Eisenmenger syndrome is a form of congenital heart disease in which systemic-to-pulmonary shunting leads to pulmonary vascular resistance. Eventually, pulmonary hypertension may lead to a reversal of the intracardiac shunting and inadequate peripheral oxygenation, or cyanosis. (1)

However, the total number of patients with Eisenmenger syndrome has been declining in recent years, as a result of corrective surgical techniques and improved medical management of pulmonary hypertension. Heart-lung transplants have not increased appreciably for other indications either, as it has become more common to transplant a single or double lung and maximize medical therapy for heart failure, rather than perform a combined transplant. In these, patient survival rates are similar to lung transplant rates. Bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome is a major complication; 1-, 5-, and 10-year patient survival rates are 68%, 50%, and 40%, respectively. (1)

In 2011, 25 adults and 2 children under 18 years of age received heart/lung transplants in the United States. As of the end of September 2012, there were 51 patients on the waiting list for heart-lung transplants. (2)

Potential contraindications for heart-lung transplant, subject to the judgment of the transplant center, include:

  • Known current malignancy, including metastatic cancer
  • Recent malignancy with high risk of recurrence
  • Untreated systemic infection making immunosuppression unsafe, including chronic infection
  • Other irreversible end-stage disease not attributed to heart or lung disease
  • History of cancer with a moderate risk of recurrence
  • Systemic disease that could be exacerbated by immunosuppression
  • Psychosocial conditions or chemical dependency affecting ability to adhere to therapy

When the candidate is eligible to receive a heart in accordance with United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) guidelines for cardiac transplantation, the lung(s) shall be allocated to the heart-lung candidate from the same donor. When the candidate is eligible to receive a lung in accordance with the UNOS Lung Allocation System (LAS), the heart shall be allocated to the heart-lung candidate from the same donor if no suitable Status 1A isolated heart candidates are eligible to receive the heart. Status 1A is described below. (3)


The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) prioritizes donor thoracic organs according to the severity of illness as follows (2):

Status 1A

A patient is admitted to the listing transplant center hospital and has at least one of the following devices or therapies in place:

  1. Mechanical circulatory support for acute hemodynamic decompensation that includes at least one of the following:
  1. Left and/or right ventricular assist device implanted;
  2. Total artificial heart;
  3. Intra-aortic balloon pump; or
  4. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenator (ECMO);
  1. Mechanical circulatory support;
  2. Mechanical ventilation;
  3. Continuous infusion of inotropes and continuous monitoring of left ventricular filling pressures;
  4. If criteria a, b, c, and d are not met, such status can be obtained by application to the applicable Regional Review Board.

Status 1B

A patient has at least one of the following devices or therapies in place:

  1. Left and/or right ventricular device implanted, or
  2. Continuous infusion of intravenous inotropes.

A patient who does not meet Status 1A or 1B is listed as Status 2.

Status 7 patients are considered temporarily unsuitable to receive a thoracic organ transplant.


Each benefit plan or contract defines which services are covered, which are excluded, and which are subject to dollar caps or other limits.  Members and their providers have the responsibility for consulting the member's benefit plan or contract to determine if there are any exclusions or other benefit limitations applicable to this service or supply.  If there is a discrepancy between a Medical Policy and a member's benefit plan or contract, the benefit plan or contract will govern.


Heart and lung transplantation may be considered medically necessary for carefully selected patients with end-stage cardiac and pulmonary disease including, but not limited to, one of the following diagnoses:

  • Irreversible primary pulmonary hypertension with heart failure;
  • Nonspecific severe pulmonary fibrosis, with severe heart failure;
  • Eisenmenger complex with irreversible pulmonary hypertension and heart failure;
  • Cystic fibrosis with severe heart failure;
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with heart failure;
  • Emphysema with severe heart failure;
  • Pulmonary fibrosis with uncontrollable pulmonary hypertension or heart failure.


Literature Review

Due to the nature of the population, no randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were found that compare heart-lung transplant to alternatives. Systematic reviews are based on case series and registry data. The extant RCTs compare surgical technique, infection prophylaxis, and immunosuppressive therapy and are not germane to this policy. The following is a summary of evidence based on registry data, case series, and expert opinion.

Patient Selection

Patients who are eligible for heart-lung transplantation can be listed under both the heart-lung allocation systems in the United States. In 2005, United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) changed the method by which lungs were allocated, from one based on length of time on the waiting list, to a system that incorporates the severity of the patient’s underlying disease, as well as likelihood of survival. (3) However, it has been noted that the individual systems underestimate the severity of illness in patients with both end-stage heart-lung failure, and modification of the lung allocation score can be appealed for patients who meet the following criteria:

  • Deterioration on optimal therapy,
  • Right arterial pressure greater than 15 mm Hg,
  • Cardiac index less than 1.8 L/min/m2.

Pediatric Considerations

In 2012, the Registry of the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation (ISHLT) reported on pediatric heart-lung transplant data collected through June 2011. (4) In recent years, the number of heart-lung transplant procedures in children has decreased, and the number of lung transplants has increased. There have not been any heart-lung transplants in infants since 2007. Overall, survival rates after heart-lung transplants are comparable in children and adults (median half-life of 4.7 and 5.3 years, respectively). For pediatric heart-lung transplants that occurred between January 1990 and June 2010, the 5-year survival rate was 49%. The 2 leading causes of death in the first year after transplantation were non-cytomegalovirus infection and graft failure. Beyond 3 years post-transplant, the major cause of death was bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome.

Potential Contraindications

Individual transplant centers may differ in their guidelines, and individual patient characteristics may vary within a specific condition. In general, heart transplantation is contraindicated in patients who are not expected to survive the procedure, or in whom patient-oriented outcomes, such as morbidity or mortality, are not expected to change due to comorbid conditions unaffected by transplantation e.g., imminently terminal cancer or other disease. Further, consideration is given to conditions in which the necessary immunosuppression would lead to hastened demise, such as active untreated infection. However, stable chronic infections have not always been shown to reduce life expectancy in heart transplant patients.


Concerns regarding a potential recipient’s history of cancer were based on the observation of significantly increased incidence of cancer in kidney transplant patients. (5) In fact, carcinogenesis is 2 to 4 times more common, primarily skin cancers, in both heart transplant and lung transplant patients, likely due to the higher doses of immunosuppression necessary for the prevention of allograft rejection. (1, 6) The incidence of de novo cancer in heart transplant patients approaches 26% at 8 years post-transplant, the rate for lung transplant is 28% at 10 years. For renal transplant patients who had a malignancy treated prior to transplant, the incidence of recurrence ranged from zero to more than 25%, depending on the tumor type. (7, 8) However, it should be noted that the availability of alternate treatment strategies informs recommendations for a waiting period following high-risk malignancies: in renal transplant, a delay in transplantation is possible due to dialysis; end-stage cardiopulmonary failure patients may not have an option. A small study (n=33) of survivors of lymphoproliferative cancers who subsequently received cardiac transplant had 1-, 5-, and 10-year survival rates of 77%, 64%, and 50%, respectively. (9) By comparison, overall 1-, 5-, and 10-year survival rates are expected to be 88%, 74%, and 55%, respectively for the general transplant candidate. The evaluation of a candidate who has a history of cancer must consider the prognosis and risk of recurrence from available information including tumor type and stage, response to therapy, and time since therapy was completed. Although evidence is limited, patients in whom cancer is thought to be cured should not be excluded from consideration for transplant. United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) has not addressed malignancy in current policies.


Solid organ transplant for patients who are HIV-positive (HIV+) has been controversial, due to the long-term prognosis for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) positivity and the impact of immunosuppression on HIV disease. Although HIV+ transplant recipients may be a research interest of some transplant centers, the minimal data regarding long-term outcome in these patients consist primarily of case reports and abstract presentations of liver and kidney recipients. Nevertheless, some transplant surgeons would argue that HIV positivity is no longer an absolute contraindication to transplant due to the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), which has markedly changed the natural history of the disease.

In March 2009, the Organ Procurement Transfer Network (OPTN) revised its policies on HIV status in recipients. It reiterates an earlier position that: “A potential candidate for organ transplantation whose test for HIV is positive but who is in an asymptomatic state should not necessarily be excluded from candidacy for organ transplantation, but should be advised that he or she may be at increased risk of morbidity and mortality because of immunosuppressive therapy.” (10)

In 2006, the British HIV Association and the British Transplantation Society Standards Committee published guidelines for kidney transplantation in patients with HIV disease. (11) These criteria may be extrapolated to other organs:

  • CD4 count greater than 200 cells/ml for at least 6 months,
  • Undetectable HIV viremia (less than 50 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml) for at least 6 months,
  • Demonstrable adherence and a stable HAART regimen for at least 6 months,
  • Absence of AIDS-defining [acquired immunodeficiency syndrome] illness following successful immune reconstitution after HAART.

However, concerns have been raised about the extrapolation of these criteria to lung transplants.


Note: Considerations for heart transplantation and lung transplantation alone may also pertain to combined heart-lung transplantation. For example, cystic fibrosis accounts for the majority of pediatric candidates for heart-lung transplantation, and infection with Burkholderia species is associated with higher mortality in these patients. And, experience with kidney transplantation in patients infected with HIV in the era of HAART has opened discussion of transplantation of other solid organs in these patients. These topics are addressed more fully in the separate policies on heart transplantation and lung transplantation.


The available literature, consisting of case series and registry data, describes outcomes after heart-lung transplantation. Given the exceedingly poor expected survival without transplantation, this evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that heart-lung transplantation provides a survival benefit in appropriately selected patients. It may be the only option for some patients with end-stage cardiopulmonary disease. Heart-lung transplant is contraindicated in patients in whom the procedure is expected to be futile due to comorbid disease or in whom post-transplantation care is expected to significantly worsen comorbid conditions.

Practice Guidelines and Position Statements

A key publication is the 2006 guidelines from the Pulmonary Scientific Council of the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation. (12) The consensus-based guidelines state that, “Lung transplantation is now a generally accepted therapy for the management of a wide range of severe lung disorders….However, the number of donor organs available remains far fewer than the number of patients with end-stage lung disease who might potentially benefit from the procedure. It is of primary importance, therefore, to optimize the use of this resource, such that the selection of patients who receive a transplant represents those with realistic prospects of favorable long-term outcomes. There is a clear ethical responsibility to respect these altruistic gifts from all donor families and to balance the medical resource requirement of one potential recipient against those of others in their society. These concepts apply equally to listing a candidate with the intention to transplant and potentially de-listing (perhaps only temporarily) a candidate whose health condition changes such that a successful outcome is no longer predicted.” Thus, for all patients, including those with end-stage cardiopulmonary disease and HIV infection, evaluation of a candidate for transplant needs to consider the probability of a successful transplant and the limited supply of organs available.


Disclaimer for coding information on Medical Policies           

Procedure and diagnosis codes on Medical Policy documents are included only as a general reference tool for each policy.  They may not be all-inclusive.           

The presence or absence of procedure, service, supply, device or diagnosis codes in a Medical Policy document has no relevance for determination of benefit coverage for members or reimbursement for providers. Only the written coverage position in a medical policy should be used for such determinations.           

Benefit coverage determinations based on written Medical Policy coverage positions must include review of the member’s benefit contract or Summary Plan Description (SPD) for defined coverage vs. non-coverage, benefit exclusions, and benefit limitations such as dollar or duration caps. 

ICD-9 Codes

33.6, 39.61, 277.02, 416.0, 416.8, 416.9, 428.1-428.9, 491.20-491.22, 492.0-492.8, 515, 745.4

ICD-10 Codes

E84.0, E84.8-E84.9, I27.0, I27.1-I27.9, I50.1-I50.9, J43.0-J43.9, J44.0-J44.9, J84.1, 02YA0Z0, 0BYK0Z0, 0BYL0Z0, 0BYM0Z0

Procedural Codes: 33930, 33933, 33935, 33960, 33961, S2152
  1. Christie JD, Edwards LB, Kucheryavaya AY et al. The Registry of the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation: twenty-seventh official adult lung and heart-lung transplant report--2010. J Heart Lung Transplant 2010; 29(10):1104-18.
  2. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). Available online at: . Last accessed October, 2012.
  3. United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). Policy 3.7. Organ distribution: allocation of thoracic organs. UNOS Policies and Bylaws. 2009 (June 26). Available online at: . Last accessed September, 2011.
  4. Benden C, Edwards LB, Kucheryavaya AY et al. The registry of the international society for heart and lung transplantation: fifteenth pediatric lung and heart-lung transplantation report-2012. J Heart Lung Transplant 2012; 31(10):1087-95.
  5. Kasiske BL, Snyder JJ, Gilbertson DT et al. Cancer after kidney transplantation in the United States. Am J Transplant 2004; 4(6):905-13.
  6. Taylor DO, Edwards LB, Boucek MM et al. Registry of the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation: twenty-second official adult heart transplant report--2005. J Heart Lung Transplant 2005; 24(8):945-55.
  7. Otley CC, Hirose R, Salasche SJ. Skin cancer as a contraindication to organ transplantation. Am J Transplant 2005; 5(9):2079-84.
  8. Trofe J, Buell JF, Woodle ES et al. Recurrence risk after organ transplantation in patients with a history of Hodgkin disease or non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Transplantation 2004; 78(7):972-7.
  9. Taylor DO, Farhoud HH, Kfoury G et al. Cardiac transplantation in survivors of lymphoma: a multi-institutional survey. Transplantation 2000; 69(10):2112-5.
  10. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). 2009 (March). Available online at: . Last accessed September, 2011.
  11. Bhagani S, Sweny P, Brook G. Guidelines for kidney transplantation in patients with HIV disease. HIV Med 2006; 7(3):133-9.
  12. Orens JB, Estenne M, Arcasoy S et al. International guidelines for the selection of lung transplant candidates: 2006 update--a consensus report from the Pulmonary Scientific Council of the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation. J Heart Lung Transplant 2006; 25(7):745-55.
  13. Heart/Lung Transplant. Chicago, Illinois: Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Medical Policy Reference Manual (November 2012) Surgery 7.03.08.
February 2012 Policy updated with literature search, no new references added. Severe heart failure added to second bullet point of medically necessary statement. Contraindications moved to Policy Guidelines. Absolute and relative contraindications combined and wording changed to be consistent with other solid organ transplant policies.
November 2012 Changed title from Transplant: Heart and Heart/Lung to Transplant: Heart/Lung.  Removed mention to Heart Transplant.
September 2013 Policy formatting and language revised.  Title changed from "Transplant: Heart/Lung" to "Heart and Lung Transplant".  Document updated with literature review. The following criteria and statements were removed from Coverage: 1) Are free of active alcohol or narcotic abuse; 2) Can deal with the postoperative and the life-long medical regimen on a physical and psychological basis; 3) Are free of comorbid conditions such as active systemic infection and malignancy; 4) A heart-lung transplant is considered experimental, investigational and unproven in patients with active systemic illness or serious comorbities that would be expected to have a substantial effect on successful completion or outcome of transplant surgery; 5) “NOTE:  End-stage heart failure as confirmed by either New York Heart Association (NYHA) classification of Status III or IV patients; or peak oxygen consumption (VO2) > 15 ml/kg/min [milliliter/kilogram/minute] or 55% of predicted VO2; OR The American College of Cardiology (ACC) guidelines for Status II patients.  See description.” In addition, CPT/HCPCS code(s) updated.
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Heart and Lung Transplant