In the world of healthcare revenue cycle management, there are numerous scenarios that can put a stranglehold on your revenue if you’re not prepared. With the COVID-19 pandemic causing varying degrees of change in inpatient volumes and visits, and telemedicine coming further into play, physicians and their practices are having to quickly navigate the nuances of their financial well-being. A practice may be buttoned up from the time the patient walks in the door, but what happens after the visit will determine when the practice will get paid. This element of the revenue cycle starts with coding. Here are five medical coding challenges that will ruin your bottom line.
1. Coding to the Highest Specificity
Missing data on a claim relative to the patient’s diagnosis and procedure can easily cause a rise in denials once received by the payers, resulting in potentially thousands of dollars in write-offs. Medical coders are responsible for coding patients’ claims to the highest level of specificity, ensuring the appropriate CPT, ICD-10-CM, and HCPCS codes are applied based on the patient’s chart from the day’s services.
COVID-19 and telemedicine are frequently bringing on new codes and code sets, all with different variations and modifiers to make the matter even more complex. Medical coders spend a lot of time researching and learning new codes, but every year – and throughout the year – changes and updates are made. Payers don’t only want to know the diagnosis and the treatment; they want to know the cause as well. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed in March of 2020 allows for an additional payment from Medicare of 20 percent for claim billed for inpatient COVID-19 patients, however, it was later indicated that a positive COVID-19 test must be stored in the patient’s medical records in order to be eligible for this payment. Being able to stay on top of codes specific to the patient’s diagnosis at treatment is more difficult than ever before.
While code specificity is important, so too is ensuring the claims do not contain codes for exaggerated procedures, or even procedures that were never performed, resulting in reimbursement for these false procedures. This seems logical enough, but upcoding can easily occur as a result of human error, misinterpretation of a physician’s notes, or lack of understanding of how to appropriately assign the thousands of ICD-10-CM codes in existence. To add to the pressure, the Office of the Inspector General issued a plan with objectives to prevent fraud and scams, and remedy misspending of COVID-19 response and recovery funds.
Much like under-coding or not providing enough data on the patient’s visit can create issues, upcoding can be a major contributor to financial loss for a practice. Questionable claims can be denied and sent back for corrections and appeals, but upcoding can have more serious ramifications outside of paper-pushing between coders and payers.
Whether it’s making sure the codes are in accordance with the care provided, understanding the code sets that apply for each procedure, or comprehension of the medical record, refraining from upcoding will help ensure a sturdy and compliant revenue stream.
3. Missing or Incorrect Information
There’s a common theme to coding challenges, and that’s having the sufficient information necessary. This information typically is pulled from a patient’s chart or record of a visit, which is often completed by the attending physician. However, even when a claim is submitted, providing required information relative to the procedure to the payer is critical as well. Situations such as failure to report time-based treatments (such as anesthesia, pain management, or hydration treatments) or reporting a code without proper documentation can result in denials.
Furthermore, information in a patient’s electronic health record may also contain inaccurate information. Keystrokes and other human errors can cause these situations to flare up, and it takes a diligent, thoughtful coder to read between the lines and ensure claims have the appropriate information.
4. Timeliness of Coding
The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) suggested in their 2018 Setting Practice Standards report that a Primary Care Physician should maintain a claim submission rate of 3.11 days after the date of service, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for practices to sustain anything close to this rate. Constant changes to code sets, an increased focus on submitting claims with sufficient and compliant information, and the requirement to code claims to the highest level of specificity, can easily delay the submission by days or weeks.
Nevertheless, delays in coding and submitting claims can cause major lags in payment and substantial loss in revenue. Insurance payers have statutes of limitations that require claims to be submitted anywhere from 120 to just 60 days after the date of service. Simply put – the more time spent coding the claim, the later it will be submitted, thus increasing the odds that the claim will be denied. Expert coders are aware of this and do everything in their power to get coded claims out the door.
5. Staffing Shortages
However, finding experts well versed in coding claims quickly, accurately and in compliance with the False Claims Act is not always an easy task. As you can imagine, the increasing need for care within the senior population is causing a rise in claim volumes, and trying to find a team of coders who know the ins and outs of complex ICD-10-CM coding can easily cause a bottleneck in the revenue cycle. Health executives expressed their struggles to find talent back in 2015, and some forecasts expect a decline in commercial payments by 2024 to further hamper a C-suite’s ability to manage labor costs. The ramifications of incorrect coding are still a key topic of discussion to this day.
The time has come for practices to begin looking outside of their organization for coding support. How is your practice planning to tackle the coding conundrum? When choosing a partner for your medical coding needs, you need to pick an expert to help your practice stay on target. TriZetto Provider Solutions, a Cognizant Company, has available highly-trained, AAPC & AHIMA certified coders with the experience of getting the details right the first time and understand the importance of coding to the medical practice.
For more information about TriZetto Provider Solutions, a partner of EZClaim, visit their website, contact them, or give them a call at 800.969.3666.
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 them today at 877.650.0904.
[ Contribution of the TriZetto Provider Solutions Editorial Team ]
There are five primary medical practice fundamentals that, if focused on, will ensure your practice is working toward goals that will make the biggest difference. Practices are pulled in many directions each day, and it can be difficult to know what to prioritize, so the following are some recommendations.
1) Define Patient Engagement Goals Perhaps one of the most overused terms in today’s medical field is “patient engagement.” Much like the drawer filled with important yet miscellaneous items, if you can’t actually define it, you probably aren’t going to do something with it.
In 2021, it is imperative to define your office’s patient engagement goals in order to determine whether they are being met, and more importantly, if the value you’ve placed on engagement is benefitting your bottom line. This could include engaging via a more personal checkout process that explains how billing and payment will be done and asking patients if there are certain times of the year they wish to be notified for annual wellness checks.
2) Ask For Online Reviews Reviews remain one of the highest drivers of new customer acquisition. As a local business, you can create a Google Business account online that provides your address, phone number, and link to your website. Included is the ability to add reviews as well as phrases and keywords about your business within the Google Business dashboard, and it’s all free!
To encourage your patients to leave reviews, create cards with step-by-step instructions for posting online reviews via Google. Be picky. Make sure you ask your best patients to participate, who will be honored that you asked. Don’t forget to monitor to see how your business listing looks to potential new patients.
3) Offer Friendly Medical Bills Of course, we’re not suggesting you add flowers or poignant sayings. Rather, explain a statement to your patients at checkout or within their financial package; this helps the process flow more naturally. BillFlash patient statements have five different messaging rows you can customize for communication. Plus, you can also send electronic patient statements through text and email.
In 2021, communication with patients—even on billing statements—should be natural, friendly, and simple. Getting paid is a segment of the medical practice workflow and should be as easy and frictionless as possible.
4) Ask About Payment Preferences People are driven by routine and behavior. In today’s world, when paying for an item, the buyer is offered numerous options including cash, debit and credit, no-interest, pay-over-time plans, payment apps, or even Near Field Communication (NFC) like Apple and Google Pay. Granted, the last two have had very low adoption rates, but keeping an eye on payment trends costs little more than time and may add something unexpected to your bottom line.
In 2021, identifying the preferred patient payment options could be the difference between getting paid quickly and not getting paid at all. Don’t overlook the enormous value people place on how they give and take money.
5) Use RCM Services An RCM vendor helps you get the most out of your practice revenue. They help you collect more from difficult balances, empower patients to pay in full, and improve your claims processing—without adding extra work for your office staff. Working with the right RCM services provider ensures you are paid more for the work you do. They also help identify reasons for claims denials, which have a positive impact on your practice revenue, as well.
After the examinations, x-rays, and surgeries, lives another major part of a physician’s day that happens behind the scenes. All the hard work needs to be processed through a successful claim submission, meaning that ultimately earning payment all boils down to one thing – coding. Evaluation and management codes, or E/M codes, are codes a physician uses to report a patient visit. This administrative task – a necessity for any physician – is often cumbersome and prone to errors. Most importantly, it uses up valuable time that could be better spent.
How many of us have experienced the “hurry up and wait” scenario? The type of appointment where you wait in a waiting room, then wait a little more in the exam room, then eventually get 10 minutes with your doctor…only to be rushed out so the next patient can be shuttled in. Unfortunately, it’s all too common. It’s safe to say that many patients could benefit from more face-to-face interaction with their providers.
Many people claim that payment for evaluation and management services is undervalued, specifically when it comes to ambulatory services. Additionally, it’s been argued that the fee schedule itself is not well-designed to support primary care, which requires ongoing care coordination for patients. Pressure existed to increase payment rates for ambulatory E/M services while reducing payment rates for other services. Thankfully, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) took notice. With the goal of increasing efficiencies to reduce unnecessary burdens, the “Patients over Paperwork” initiative was established. Per CMS, E/M codes make up 20% of total spending under the physician fee schedule. Part of this initiative aims to reduce the coding and documentation requirements for E/M codes, in turn giving physicians more time to spend with patients. In partnership with The American Medical Society (AMA), CMS worked to revise the rules for evaluation and management coding requirements. These changes were finalized in the 2020 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) with an effective date of January 1, 2021.
So what exactly was revised? The E/M updates affect codes 99201 through 99215 and include the deletion of code 99201 along with revisions to the code selection for 99202 – 99215. Below is a summary of the revisions to E/M codes:
Elimination of code 99201
Decrease the burden of coding requirements
Decreases the burden of documentation
Decreases the need for audits
Revises the definitions for Medical Decision Making (MDM)
Revises the definition of time spent with the patient to total time including non-face-to-face for E/M services by a physician and other QHP
Requires a history and/or examination when medically< necessary
Offers a clear time ranges for each code for time spent with the patient
Addition of a new 15-minute prolonged service code
Clinicians will choose a code based on MDM or total time
These changes apply to office visits and other outpatient services. It’s noteworthy that these changes represent the first changes to the E/M codes in over 25 years! More importantly, the changes streamline the coding process, reduce clinician burden, and will allow physicians to put the focus back on patient care.
Billing and coding should always be top of mind, but it can be hard to keep up. This is why it’s critical for physicians, clinicians, coders, and billers to completely understand these changes. To help comprehension, the AMA released a checklist identifying ten steps to help the practices prepare for the upcoming changes that can be accessed here. To learn more about the medical coding changes and the summary of revisions, visit the AMA website.
Note: This article is not a comprehensive overview and is NOT intended to provide coding advice, rather it is intended to highlight the new changes in effect and the need for physicians to ensure they have received the proper training for the upcoming changes.
Reserve your place for a webinar that will inform you on how to increase your revenue with a proper medical billing verification strategy.
With increased patient financial responsibility, it’s extremely important to proactively check your patients’ benefits coverage and provide payment estimates to avoid any unexpected costs. By enhancing your medical billing verification strategy and providing patient financial transparency upfront, it increases the likelihood that you’ll rake in more revenuethis season.
Join EZClaim and TriZetto Provider Solutions, a Cognizant Company, for a webinar on Thursday, October 29, 2020 at 1 p.m. ET, to discover strategies your practice can catch falling revenue through seamless integration and automation.
During This Webinar We Will Discuss:
• Patient Responsibility Estimation: Quickly obtain patient financial estimates at the point of service to help increase patient revenue, decrease billing costs, and improve patient satisfaction through price transparency.
• Integrated Eligibility: Connect to payers through a single application to get the most up-to-date information on patient coverage, co-pays, deductibles, and more. Proactively verify patient eligibility, for up to 50 patients at a time directly from your EZClaim Premier program.
• Insurance Eligibility Discovery: Submit a real-time eligibility request using minimal data and identify a patient’s insurance carrier in a matter of seconds. Maintain groups of your common payers and easily locate active patients and full eligibility benefits on our website.
EZCLAIM: EZClaim is a medical billing and scheduling software company that provides best-in-class customer service and support. To learn more, e-mail them at email@example.com or call a representative today at 877.650.0904.
TRIZETTO: TriZetto combines innovative, proven products with an exacting commitment to serving our customers, in order to provide you with the tools you need to effectively manage your reimbursement cycle.
A group of senators introduced the “Health Care PRICE Transparency Act”in a move to empower patients to lower their healthcare costs.
On a basic level, the Act will require all medical facilities to post payer-negotiated rates for all shoppable services, so the patient can find the most inexpensive way to take care of their medical needs. This legislation will give Americans the chance to see the actual costs of their healthcare visits, which in theory, will increase competition and lower healthcare costs for everyone.
The added transparency of the Act will bring more accountability and competition to the healthcare industry, and gives American’s more control over their healthcare costs. However, if you are a medical practice, a hospital, or a member of the medical billing community, you need to know how you can best respond.
• “What is this procedure going to cost?”: There is going to be mounting pressure on practitioners, medical billers, and hospitals to have answers for the cost of procedures. Jeff Leibach, a director of Guidehouse’s healthcare strategic solutions team, says that “regardless of the legal fate of the final rule, hospitals need to be prepared for more price transparency in the future.” So, to get in front of this—and help you compete against your competitors—you should be prepared with both what it will cost for individual services and procedures, as well as, a ‘value statement’ on why it will cost what you are charging.
• Prepare to Comply or Cover the Costs: As it stands now, the legislation is moving towards technology assisting with the billing transparency. This will aid the patients to better understand the cost of services. This is a ‘clarion call’ for you to begin preparing for this reality or you will struggle with being fined and potentially publicly shamed in publications for being offenders. We recommend starting to comply NOW before the deadline ‘sneaks up’ on you.
• Use It To Improve: Currently, healthcare practices are, in many cases, already working at capacity. The added effort of defining cost and selling procedures are enough to make some healthcare facilities put this off until it is too late. Yet, while many may be considering accepting the fines and fees associated with non-compliance, we advise using this as an opportunity to improve—to better establish your medical practice’s services and promote your ability to be proactive to change. Getting ahead of the coming ‘wave’ of consumer expectations of healthcare will be a benefit.
• Seek Out Vendors That Can Assist: The changes that are coming for individual practices and healthcare providers can be overwhelming, and potentially it might just be more than what an IT team or private practice can handle. Forward-thinking billing departments should be investing in software vendors that can help fill that gap. EZClaim is a medical billing software company that partners with Trizetto to provide a tool called, Patient Responsibility Estimation(PRE). This tool assists in clarifying costs to consumers by providing a cheap and fast way for them to pay for out-of-pocket costs. [ Click here to learn more about how EZClaim can help you ].
It is clear that the expectations of consumers are changing, and the wave of medical transparency is on its way. Accepting it, preparing for it, and using vendor software to help overcome it, can be the difference of your practice avoiding fines and fees. For those forward-thinking and proactive practices who want to learn about how EZClaim can help, e-mail one of their sales representatives, go to their website for more details, or download a FREE 30-day trial today!
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