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New Year, New Codes: Medical Coding Changes For 2021

New Year, New Codes: Medical Coding Changes For 2021

With a new year comes new medical coding changes.

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.

 

TriZetto Provider Solutions is a partner of EZClaim, and can assist you with all your coding needs. For more details about the EZClaim medical billing solution, visit their website, e-mail their support team, or call them at 877.650.0904.

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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. 

[ Contributed by TriZetto Provider Solutions Editorial Team ]

Life Cycle of a Medical Bill (Revenue Cycle 101)

Life Cycle of a Medical Bill (Revenue Cycle 101)

Life Cycle of a Medical BillThere are five ‘phases’ in the life cycle of a medical bill: Pre-appointment; Point of care; Claim submission; Insurance payment or denial; and Patient payment. This post will overview each of these phases, and could even be considered to be a “101-level” course on Revenue Cycle Management.

With high deductible health plans on the rise, the recent explosion of telehealth appointments due to COVID-19, and many other factors in play, it’s more important than ever for everyone to understand the life cycle of a medical bill, and how the process works. The healthcare revenue cycle is relevant not only to those who work in healthcare, but to the patient, too.

The revenue cycle is the series of processes around healthcare payments—from the time a patient makes an appointment to the time a provider is paid—and everything in between. One way to think of it is in terms of the life cycle of a medical bill. Although there are many ways this process can play out, this post will lay out a common example below:

1. Pre-appointment
For most general care, the first stage of the revenue cycle begins when a patient contacts a provider to set up their appointment. Generally this is when relevant patient information will begin to be collected for the eventual bill, referred to on the financial side of healthcare as a claim.

At this point a provider will determine whether the appointment and procedure will need prior authorization from an insurance company (referred to as the payer). Also, the electronic health record (EHR) used to help generate the claim is created, and will begin to accumulate further detail as the provider sends an eligibility inquiry to check into the patient’s insurance coverage.

2. Point of care
The next step in the process begins when the patient arrives for their appointment. This could include when a patient arrives for an initial consultation, an outpatient procedure, or for a follow-up exam. This could also include a Telehealth appointment.

At any of these events, the provider may charge an up-front cost. One example of this is a co-pay, which is the set amount patients pay after their deductible (if they are insured), however, there are other kinds of payments that fall into this category, too.

3. Claim submission
After the point of care, the provider completes and submits a claim with the appropriate codes to the payer. In order to accomplish that, billing staff must collect all necessary documentation and attach it to the claim. After submitting the claim to the payer, the provider’s team will monitor whether a claim has been been accepted, rejected, or denied.

[ Note: Medical coding refers to the clerical process of translating steps in the patient experience with reference numbers. The codes are normally based on medical documentation, such as a doctor’s notes or laboratory results. These explain to a payer how a patient was diagnosed and treated, and why. This information helps the payer decide how much of an encounter is covered under any given insurance plan, and therefore how much the payer will pay. ]

4. Insurance payment or denial
Once the payer receives the claim, they ensure it contains complete information and agrees with provider and patient records. If there is an error, the claim will be rejected outright and the provider will have to submit a corrected claim.

The payer then begins the review process, referred to as adjudication. Payers evaluate claims for accurate coding and documentation, medical necessity, appropriate authorization, and more. Through this process, the payer decides their financial obligation. Any factor could cause the payer to deny the claim.

If the claim is approved, the payer submits payment to the provider with information explaining details of their decision. If the claim is denied, the provider will need to determine if the original needs to be corrected, or if it makes more sense to appeal the payer’s decision.

Following adjudication, the payer will send an explanation of benefits (EOB) to the patient. This EOB will provide a breakdown of how the patient’s coverage matched up to the charges attached to their care. It is not a billing statement, but it does show what the provider charged the payer, what portion insurance covers, and how much the patient is responsible for.

5. Patient payment
The next phase occurs when the provider sends the patient a statement for their portion of financial responsibility. This stage occurs once the provider and payer have agreed on the details of the claim, what has been paid, and what is still owed.

The last step occurs when a patient pays the balance that they owe the provider for their care. Depending on the amount, the patient may be able pay it all at once, or they might need to work with the provider on a payment plan.

 

The above example represents one way the lie cycle of a medical bill can play out. Some of the ‘phases’ are often repeated. Because of the complexity of healthcare payments and the parties involved, there is not always a ‘straight line’ from patient care to complete payment. That’s why we call it the revenue cycle, and there are companies that provide systems for its management.

One of EZClaim’s partners, Waystar, aims to simplify and unify healthcare payments. Their technology automates many parts of the billing process laid out above, so it takes less time and energy for providers and their teams, and is more transparent for patients (Click here to learn more about how Waystar automates manual tasks and streamlines workflows.) When the revenue cycle is operating at its most efficient, providers can focus their resources on improving patient care—and that’s a better way forward for everyone!

For more information of how Waystar works together with EZClaim, click here.

[ Article and image provided by Waystar ]

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ABOUT EZCLAIM:
EZClaim is a medical billing and scheduling software company that provides a best-in-class product, with correspondingly exceptional service and support, and can help improve medical billing revenues. To learn more, visit their website, e-mail them at sales@ezclaim.com, or call a representative today at 877.650.0904.