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 ]
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.
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.”
Credit card collections are a BIG part of any successful medical practice, and there has been a shift, in the last decade, that more insurance policies are adding co-pays with higher deductibles—which makes getting paid even more challenging.1 One industry report said that “73% of physicians shared that it typically takes at least one month to collect a payment, and 12% of their patients wait more than three months to pay.”2 With the current trend, more medical practices and their billing departments (or outsourced billing firms) are going the route of processing payment via credit cards, which has its PROS and CONS.
In light of this new information, the following are a few pros and cons for credit card processing that we anticipate in the near future and some insights for choosing the best billing software that supports the credit card processing needs of medical practices:
PRO: To protect against the dangers of stolen data, fraud, or other compromises in security, practices should seek out medical billing software that has credit card processing built-in, which can help safeguard against these dangers.
CON: Security is a big risk, and a leak in data leading to stolen funds can end up in a physician paying out-of-pocket for the breach. It is also important to note that breach of credit card data is also considered a violation under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
PRO: Implementing credit card processing will reduce long waiting periods for payments from the majority of your patients, and will also reduce the additional effort your billing staff has to extend to collect on overdue notices.
CON: Practices cannot require patients to share their credit card information to receive medical care, and even if patients do share their credit card information, physicians cannot continue to charge the credit card without a patient’s consent.
PRO: Physicians can end the process of being a “line of credit” to unpaid or underpaid claims, and collect on funds immediately.
CON: You will need to implement internal processes that include, but are not limited to proper personal information storage and security, establishing guidelines on maximum percentages charged per bill, and personal consent forms.
Overall, there are definitely MORE ‘PROS’ than cons for implementing credit card processing for your medical practice, and all the trends are pointing to this being the PREFERRED METHOD of payment in the near future. EZClaim is proud to announce that it will release an integrated credit card processing solution, EZClaimPay, that is backed by a national merchant services vendor. [ EZClaim will be sharing more details about EZClaimPay in the weeks to come, via their social media platforms, their monthly newsletter, direct communications, and more ].
In addition to the credit card collections PROS and CONS above, we reached out to one of our partners, Live Compliance, to gather some regulatory and security advice. They suggested the following:
When accessing, transmitting, storing, or receiving any Protected Health Information (PHI), the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) mandates that you are to maintain HIPAA compliance.
When accepting, processing, or maintaining credit card information and debit card information, you must ensure that your organization is PCI DSS compliant (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard).
In addition to the above Federal regulatory requirements, most states require privacy and security compliance requirements to be implemented, along with strict adherence to the privacy of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and Breach Notification requirements.
For more information on your compliance requirements, visit Live Compliance for a Free Organization Assessment to identify and uncover your organization’s vulnerabilities.
If you are not a current customer of EZClaim, we would very much like to connect with you. You can either schedule a one-on-one consultation with our sales team, view a recorded demo, or download a FREE 30-day trial right now. For detailed product features or general information about EZClaim, visit our website at ezclaim.com.
[ NOTE: If you would like a quote on the upcoming merchant services, please e-mail email@example.com your last three merchant statements. For more on our ongoing updates and industry news, you can follow EZClaim on Facebook and LinkedIn ].
Source Material: 1 – America’s Health Insurance Plans” report that there were 20.2 million co-pays in 2017, which was up tremendously from just over 1 million in 2005. 2 – Source: From InstaMed’s annual “Trends in Healthcare Payments” report.
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