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NuVasive Backs Forecasts, Says No Reimbursement Issue

By Jon Kamp Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NuVasive Inc. (NUVA) Chief Executive Alex Lukianov addressed a recent eruption of investor concerns about reimbursement for spinal procedures with company devices, with the CEO backing 2009 and 2010 financial targets and saying the company doesn't believe there is an issue. Shares of the San Diego-based company started dropping Nov. 19 after a research firm raised concerns about insurers considering the company's flagship procedure experimental, which indicates they might not pay for it. This concern was stoked by a relatively recent decision on that front from Aetna Inc. (AET). NuVasive shares fell another 6.7% on Monday to close at $32.45. Shares were recently up 1.7% at $33 in after-hours trading. The procedure in question involves surgeons accessing and repairing problem areas in the spine from patients' sides, and is marketed under the name "XLIF." But surgeons typically bill for these procedures under a more generic term that is covered, and are not having trouble getting reimbursement, Lukianov noted. "We do not believe that this is a significant issue," he told analysts on a call late Monday. He backed NuVasive's guidance for full-year sales of $365 million to $367 million and earnings excluding items of 27 cents to 30 cents. That guidance had been raised in October. He also reiterated NuVasive's outlook for sales growth of 30% to 35% in 2010 and an operating margin, excluding items, of about 17%. "Our growth outlook is unchanged," Lukianov said. NuVasive plans to accelerate its meetings with insurers to explain to them that the North American Spine Society has long supported the way these procedures are coded, and that XLIF procedures are not experimental. The company has also reached out with top surgeons "and received an overwhelming response that this is not an issue," Lukianov said. When reimbursement for procedures is rejected, surgeons typically resubmit the reimbursement request and the "vast majority" of rejections are overturned, he added. -By Jon Kamp, Dow Jones Newswires; 617-654-6728;

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