In this interview with a medical billing expert and co-owner of Elite Billing Resolutions, Vicky Greenwood, we talk about dealing with the challenges in owning a billing company, some important skills that every medical biller needs, and the value of choosing the right medical billing software. In our time speaking with Vicky, we focused on topics that will aid, contribute, and help grow the skills of the medical billing community. We at EZClaim believe in highlighting the best practices in the industry and sharing those with the larger community. We encourage you to consider these insights, and then let us know what topics you would like to learn more about.
EZCLAIM: When did you get into medical billing? VICKY: “I started in 1994, and at the time we were working on a dinosaur of a system called, “Signature.” We would have to wait overnight to process the entire day’s work. Then we would return in the morning to see if there were any errors in the batch or denials in the claims, which meant being accurate in entering information was essential. Outside of that, we kept all our paperwork in filing cabinets, and they needed to be sorted and organized by date. If a date was off in the filing system it could take the better part of a day to find a patient’s claim. The difference between then and now is night and day. I am definitely thankful for technology.”
EZCLAIM:Why did you start Elite Medical Billing? VICKY: “We started Elite Medical Billing because we wanted to be able to directlyimpact our medical practices with the services we provided, and we wanted the freedom to enjoy doing it for our clients. I also knew that I was experienced in the field, was competent at my job, and enjoyed doing what needed to be done to get practices paid. Once I honed those skills and knew we could do it. We hired a lawyer and an accountant, then formed our company.”
EZCLAIM: What are challenges in starting a company? VICKY: “First, you have to understand the value of time management and delegation. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. It is good to know when you need to ask for help. Next, you want to find good staff. I look for people who have the right attitude about the job first and have the characteristics to be proactive and work hard. Then, I look for experience in the field, learning if they had hands-on experience with claims, denials, and coordination of benefitsis part of that. At the end of the day, my staff are my [company], and fortunately, most of my staff have been with me from the beginning.”
EZCLAIM: Why did you choose EZClaim? VICKY: “We had a client who needed software and, being a smaller company, we needed cost-effective software with strong tech support. When we searched on Google for “easy to use medical billing software,” we found EZClaim. We were won over by the first phone call. Since then, we have been reminded of how great a decision that we made. The simplicity by which you can enter the information, process new patients, and ‘claim them’ within minutes is invaluable. That combined with the great customer service—that answers our questions most often on the first call with detailed answers—and video tutorial support is why we will continue to use and promote the software.”
EZCLAIM: Are you a member of AMBA and MMBA? VICKY: “We joined the MMBA and AMBA in 2016 to help us certify our billing company. That process and the training, testing, and materials were amazing pieces of helping us get established and grow. In addition, the expos, webinars, and online support offer an abundance of information. Of course, the annual expos are both informative and a great work trip for team building and fun. We make it annually to the MMBA, but our next big goal is to go to the AMBA in Las Vegas!”
EZCLAIM: Have some final thoughts to offer fellow medical billers and business owners? VICKY: “As a medical biller and owner, you have to be willing to talk with physicians. You need to show them the vouchers and documentation of your work. And it is important to communicate how they bill and how they can be sure to properly classify to get paid. You need to review what they have done in the past and how they can improve in the future by training staff.”
“You can also add value by making them the good guy and yourself the bad guy when dealing with patients and getting paid. We allow patients to call us directly, we answer the questions, and tell them how much they have to pay—then we forward the call to the office. Remember, at the end of the day, you have to show them the money. They work hard and they deserve to get paid.”
ABOUT EZCLAIM: As a medical billing expert, EZClaim can help the medical practice improve its revenues since it is a medical billing and scheduling software company. EZClaim provides a best-in-class product, with correspondingly exceptional service and support. Combined, EZClaim helps improve medical billing revenues. To learn more, visit EZClaim’s website, email them, or call them today at 877.650.0904.
Deborah Rieser founded Spectrum Medical Billing Services in Anchorage, Alaska 15 years ago to make extra money to help with paying the family’s bills. Today, she owns a thriving medical billing service with a team of “twelve lovely ladies”—as she likes to refer to them—that services clients nationwide. Rieser originally selected EZClaim’s medical billing software platform—because of its pricing structure—to use for her medical billing service.
Over the years, since her original purchase, she has upgraded to each new EZClaim version, which adding new features and efficiencies. Recently, she has made the transition to EZClaim Cloud, and continues to use it exclusively today.
With team members nationwide, Rieser prides herself on training her billers on properly classifying billing for medical offices so that there are minimal insurance denials. She is very particular about this since one of the reasons Deborah began billing was the insurance qualification struggles she had for her daughter with Autism. So, accurate billing is ‘personal’.
Recently, we found time to interview Rieser about her start in the industry, the ups and downs of being a business owner, and what hard-fought expertise she has gained that might help others considering to start their own medical billing service.
EZCLAIM: When did you get into the medical billing industry and why? RIESER: “I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and I had an orchid business out of our house. Then my daughter, who was born with Autism, started working with an Occupational Therapist (OT), and they came to me to help with billing. I thought about it, and after a few weeks, I took it on. That was back in 2005.
“At that time, my daughter had over 75 volunteers and therapists in the community work with her from age three to age five, and had 50-60 hours a week of therapy. Today, she is a sophomore in university, has a boyfriend, is driving her car, and is thriving. From all of that, I have always felt the need to give back to the community for all their help. So, I used my business to take on other Pediatric, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech Therapy clients, as well as, using my experience to help patients take care of their billing needs and get their bills paid by insurance.”
EZCLAIM: What are you passionate about when it comes to billing? RIESER: “For me, the biggest thing that I am passionate about is seeing my clients [medical offices] getting paid from insurance claims. I also enjoy helping patients get properly classified during medical visits, so claims are accepted. I have learned a lot from the mistakes and errors that have led to denied claims. From my experience, I can help medical practices observe their approach to patients’ needs so that services qualify when billing insurance companies. Being able to offer that to my clients is very satisfying.”
EZCLAIM: What are some of the challenges you have had to overcome? RIESER: “Originally, we grew word-of-mouth. I didn’t even want a website at first, but now I do have one. Going from one client to 65 is challenging because as your clients grow, your staff grows. Recently, I lost a client. You then have to decide what you’re going to do with your staff. The hardest part is that, for a business owner, your business consistently goes up and down. That fluctuation can be stressful. For me, I deal with that by going outdoors. My husband and I will go for a walk in nature and that will help relieve my stress.”
EZCLAIM: What advice would you offer others in the billing industry that have similar experiences? RIESER: “If you’re starting your own business, make sure it’s one you love. Know that there will always be highs and lows. Also, be sure to price yourself accordingly. You can’t go too high or people will look elsewhere.
“I do want to step back and highlight that some of my billing practices only do 2-3 claims a week, and that’s why I love EZClaim. The price of the software. When I was growing, I was working on EZClaim “Advance,” which is being retired. So, when I started looking around at other software providers, they were billed on a ‘per provider cost.’ Fortunately, EZClaim “Cloud” billed based on the number of concurrent users, which worked for me.”
EZCLAIM: How has your relationship with AMBA (American Medical Billing Association) benefitted you? RIESER: “I just joined last year in 2019, thanks to EZClaim and Dan Loch’s referral. I love that group. I joined their Facebook group because they have very useful information for us billers. I recommended that my team members join as well. They are good at supporting US-based companies and put the focus on supporting the group.”
EZCLAIM: What would you tell people who are wondering if EZClaim Cloud is right for them? RIESER: “The transition to EZClaim Cloud was easy. I was worried about the providers and the tax ID’s, but it all was very smooth. I would add that customer support was very helpful. As daunting as moving things over felt, it was very smooth. I attribute that to the planning and support.”
EZCLAIM: What would you say would be a strength of someone who is good at billing and coding? RIESER: “It is important to be a very good communicator, professional, out-going, and enjoy what you do. One must be able to communicate with providers over denials, success, celebrations, and always keep talking with the staff and the providers. Also, always try to put yourself in the patients’ shoes by offering patience and compassion. Lots of times patients don’t understand their benefits and why they are denied. So, try to explain in layman’s terms. They understand better and appreciate that. It ends up being a good connection with the patient, and benefits you as the biller, too.”
EZCLAIM: Final thoughts? RIESER: “I am grateful to EZClaim for their services. As a business owner, you have to monitor expenses and things can add up fast. So, I am thankful for EZClaim Cloud and its pricing structure. That has helpedSpectrum Medical Billing Services to grow and thrive.”
[ The above answers were paraphrased as closely as possible to the original answers given by Deborah Rieser on November 25, 2020 ].
ABOUT EZCLAIM: EZClaim is a medical billing and scheduling software company that provides a best-in-class product, with correspondingly exceptional service and support. Combined, they help improve medical billing revenues. To learn more, visit EZClaim’s website, e-mail them, or call a representative today at 877.650.0904.
EZClaim is always looking for ways to help our medical billing clients improve. In an effort to further that mission, this month we are kicking off the first in a series called, “What’s Current in Coding.” In this series, we will highlight coding topics, events, webinars, and more, all with the aim of keeping you current in medical billing and coding.
This month our focus came from two articles on coding sourced from the AMBA Newsletter that we feel are hot topics of the industry: “Coding for Group Visits” and the “Telehealth Coding Guide.”
Below you will find full articles and source links.
ARTICLE 1: “Coding for Group Visits”
Many physicians are interested in providing group medical visits. Whether the drop-in group medical appointment (DIGMA), chronic care health clinic (CCHC) or other model is delivered, the coding and billing of these services raise questions about codes and payment policies.
While past instruction on coding for group visits often indicated that physicians should report code 99499 for unlisted evaluation and management services, using this code requires that documentation is sent with the claim to identify the service(s) provided and leaves valuing of the service in the hands of the payer.
No official payment or coding rules have been published by Medicare. However, the question of “the most appropriate CPT code to submit when billing for a documented face-to-face evaluation and management (E/M) service performed in the course of a shared medical appointment, the context of which is educational”, was sent to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) with a request for an official response. The request further clarified, “In other words, is Medicare payment for CPT code 99213, or other similar evaluation and management codes, dependent upon the service being provided in a private exam room or can these codes be billed if the identical service is provided in front of other patients in the course of a shared medical appointment?”
The response from CMS was, “…under existing CPT codes and Medicare rules, a physician could furnish a medically necessary face-to-face E/M visit (CPT code 99213 or similar code depending on level of complexity) to a patient that is observed by other patients. From a payment perspective, there is no prohibition on group members observing while a physician provides a service to another beneficiary.” The letter went on to state that any activities of the group (including group counseling activities) should not impact the level of code reported for the individual patient.
Some private payers have instructed physicians to bill an office visit (99201-99215) based on the entire group visit. For compliance purposes, we recommend that you ask for these instructions in writing and keep them on file as you would any other advice from a payer.
Where each individual patient is provided a medically necessary, one-on-one encounter, in addition to the time in the group discussions, there should be no problem in billing for the visit based solely on the documented services provided in a direct one-on-one encounter.
If your group visits include the services of nutritionists or a behavioral health specialist, contact payers to determine if that portion of the group visit can be directly billed by the non-physician provider. This typically would include codes for medical nutrition therapy (97804) or health and behavior intervention (96153).
Other codes that may be applicable are the codes for education and training for patient self-management involving a standardized curriculum (98961-98962). Neither these codes nor medical nutrition or behavioral health therapy are billed by physicians. Physicians must use evaluation and management codes to report these services.
Code 99078 describes physician educational services in a group. Again, it is necessary to contact the payer to verify that coverage of this service is a payable benefit.
As with many services, coding for group visits requires that billing and coding staff do preliminary work with payers to identify desired coding applications.
ARTICLE 2: “Telehealth Coding Guide”
There’s nothing more frustrating than rendering a service and not being paid. Nuanced coding rules are difficult to understand, and physicians aren’t taught this information in medical school.
Still, health care is a business. As business owners, physicians need to know how they’re paid, including what codes to use, what modifiers to append, and what details to document. Brushing up on common coding mistakes helps avoid costly recoupments and denials. We’ve asked several coding experts to provide their best advice on how physicians can maintain compliance and collect all of the revenue to which they’re entitled.
In part 1 of our two-part coding guide, we focused on coding for Telehealth and other forms of remote patient care — important codes for physician practices’ short-term survival as the U.S. continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In times of social distancing, telephone services have become a practical way to improve patient access and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Telephone services are ideal for straightforward problems (e.g., simple rash, asymptomatic cough, medication refills) that require a minimum of five minutes of medical discussion, says Toni Elhoms, CCS, CPC, chief executive officer of Alpha Coding Experts, LLC, in Orlando, Florida. Consider the following codes that Medicare accepts during the current public health emergency (PHE). Commercial payers may accept these codes, as well. Note that once the PHE has concluded, Medicare may only accept G2012 (virtual check-in) for telephone services.
Elhoms provides these tips to ensure compliance:
Document verbal consent, including patient acknowledgment and acceptance of any copayments or coinsurance amounts due.
Only count time spent on the phone engaging in medical discussion with the patient or caregiver. Do not report these codes for conversations lasting less than five minutes.
Clearly document what was discussed, as well as the outcome of the conversation (e.g., medications prescribed, referrals to specialists, additional steps for the patient to take).
Don’t report these codes when the telephone service ends with a decision to see the patient in 24 hours or the next available appointment.
Don’t report these codes when the telephone service relates to a related E/M service performed within the previous seven days or within the postoperative period of a previously completed procedure.
Only provide 99441-99443 and 98966-98968 for established patients. During the PHE, Medicare permits providers to bill G2012 for new and established patients.
‘The best way to operationalize these codes is to set up an edit in the practice management system that pends claims for a manual review to determine whether and which services are ultimately billable, Elhoms says.
Telehealth services In the last few months, providers have adopted Telehealth to improve patient access and generate revenue during COVID-19. Among the services physicians can render via Telehealth to patients with Medicare during the current PHE are Medicare annual wellness visits, new and established patient office visits, prolonged services, smoking, and tobacco cessation counseling, annual depression and alcohol screenings, advanced care planning, and more. Medicare covers more than 200 services via Telehealth, many of which were added for temporary coverage during the current PHE. Commercial payer coverage of these services may vary, and it’s best to check with individual payers, Elhoms says.
Elhoms provides these tips for billing Telehealth services:
Pay attention to audio-only vs. audio-visual requirements. Medicare requires the use of audio-visual technology for certain Telehealth services and permits audio-only for others. Commercial payers also may have specific requirements. For example, physicians can render a Telehealth visit for advanced care planning using audio-only, but they must use audio-visual technology for a new patient telehealth office visit.
Don’t render Medicare’s Initial Preventive Physical Exam via Telehealth. Medicare does not permit it.
Document verbal consent for Telehealth, including patient acceptance of any copayments or coinsurance amounts due.
Use place of service (POS) code 11 and modifier -95 when billing Medicare. Note that commercial payers may require a different POS code (e.g., POS 2 or POS “other”) and modifier.
Document, document, document. Physicians need to prove they met all of the code requirements even when rendering the service via Telehealth, Elhoms says. “Don’t pull in a problem list if you didn’t treat or manage all of those problems,” she adds. “Physicians need to link the diagnosis with the assessment and treatment plan. That’s imperative.” One caveat is that during the current PHE, physicians can bill 99201-99215 rendered via Telehealth based on time or medical decision-making. “The total time in direct medical discussion with the patient is going to be critical,” Elhoms says.
“The best advice I can give anyone doing Telehealth right now is to watch the CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] and commercial payer websites pretty much on a daily basis,” says Rhonda Buckholtz, CPC, CPMA, owner of Coding and Reimbursement Experts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “The coding of services changes constantly, and practices really need to be careful.”
Online digital E/M services
Though online digital E/M services are relatively new, they also can help practices increase patient access during COVID-19. Here’s how it works: An established patient initiates a conversation through a HIPAA-compliant secure platform (e.g., electronic health record portals, secure email, secure texting). A physician or other qualified health care professional reviews the query, as well as any pertinent data and records. Then they develop a management plan and subsequently communicate that plan to the patient or their caregiver through online, telephone, email or other digitally supported communication.
Elhoms provides these tips to maintain compliance:
Use these codes when physicians or other qualified health care professionals make a clinical decision that would otherwise occur during an office visit. Do not use them for scheduling appointments or nonevaluative communication of test results.
Use these codes only for established patients.
Do not use these codes for fewer than five minutes of E/M services.
Document verbal consent, including patient acknowledgment and acceptance of any copayments or coinsurance amounts due.
Do not report these codes when the online digital E/M service ends with a decision to see the patient in 24 hours or the next available urgent visit appointment.
Do not report these codes when the online digital E/M service relates to a related E/M service performed within the previous seven days or within the postoperative period of a previously completed procedure.
Promoting these services is often the biggest barrier, says Elhoms, who suggests putting up signs letting patients know they can access their provider electronically for non-urgent medical issues.
Remote patient monitoring Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is a relatively easy way for physicians to keep tabs on patients without requiring them to come into the office. Medicare covers RPM for patients with one or more acute or chronic conditions, and commercial payer coverage may vary. During the PHE, physicians can initiate RPM on new and established patients. Normally, Medicare permits it only for established patients.
RPM consists of two forms: monitoring data through either a non-manual or manual data transfer, says Jim Collins, CPC, CCC, a consultant at CardiologyCoder.com, Inc. in Saratoga Springs, New York.
For example, physicians can remotely monitor a patient’s pulse oximetry, weight, blood pressure or respiratory flow rate using a device that transmits daily recordings or programmed alerts. Physicians can purchase them directly from manufacturers or patients can purchase the devices themselves. Collins says patients should look for Bluetooth-enabled devices or ones that include a built-in Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) transmitter. The former requires an Internet connection, and the latter automatically transmits data to an internet cloud service through an encrypted bandwidth. Physicians can bill for the initial setup, cost of the device itself (when applicable), and data monitoring.
Another example is the self-measured blood pressure monitoring. When patients supply their own blood pressure device that a physician calibrates, physicians may be able to bill for patient education, device calibration, reviewing the data that the patient provides and communicating a treatment plan to the patient or caregiver.
“Monitoring physiologic data on a regular basis substantially reduces hospitalizations, trips to the emergency room and exacerbations of chronic conditions,” says Collins. “It can also be a huge chunk of revenue.”
Collins provides these tips for compliant RPM billing:
Document patient consent. Patients must opt-in for these services.
Document total time spent rendering these services to support time-based requirements.
Know when these codes are appropriate. It’s unclear whether Medicare will pay physicians for monitoring physiologic data derived from internal devices (devices placed within the patient’s body) or data derived from wearable fitness devices.
Only bill 99457 when the provider renders at least 20 minutes of live, interactive communication with the patient or caregiver. “It’s not going to be medically necessary to spend 20 minutes every month on every patient,” Collins says. “Patients could go for several months without physicians needing to do anything for them.”
Compliance Plan Breakout – Written by Stephanie Cremeans of EZClaim
Any provider that is treating Medicare or Medicaid patients is required to have a compliance plan for their practice. This is mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) has established an outline of seven components to help the small or individual provider offices get started. They also understand that small practices don’t typically have extensive resources creating and establishing a plan, and encourage practices to start with one item, making the compliance plan a working document that is updated and added to as necessary. The seven components are as follows:
Conduct internal monitoring and auditing
Implement compliance and practice standards
Designate a compliance officer or contact
Conduct appropriate training and education
Respond appropriately to detected offenses and develop corrective action
Develop open lines of communication with employees
Enforce disciplinary standards through well-publicized guidelines
Let’s dig in a bit to the first component, conducting internal monitoring and auditing. Starting with this step will help a practice lay the groundwork of its compliance plan and shed light on areas that need additional work. There is no set number of records that are required to be audited, rather a suggestion of 5 (or more) per provider annually for a small or solo practice. You can start your compliance plan by simply documenting that no less than 5 charts per provider will be audited annually. Keep track of the results and use them to start implementing other components. For instance, you have the audit results, but what is considered passing? What are you going to do if a provider isn’t compliant? Document the answers and you are building your plan. Did the audit show specific areas for improvement? Find applicable training or host training for those that need it, document it in your plan. Did you find overpayments? Document how these are to be handled, resolve them quickly, and put policies in place to prevent a bigger problem.
By taking steps to create a compliance plan and show a good-faith effort to improve on risk areas your practice will reap the benefits of clean claims with a reduction in denials, fewer billing errors, and the assurance that your records are ready for an audit. This will also reduce your risk exposure to fines.
For help getting started with that first audit, setting benchmarks and improvement plans or for education on problem areas contact RCM Insight. For additional assistance with building your HIPAA compliance plans contact Live Compliance.
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