8 Tips Give You Straight Facts on Modifier 33

Weed through the guidance to properly append this commonly confused modifier.

Does modifier 33 Preventive service cause you confusion? Here are eight quick tips that teach you when and how to append this CPT® modifier.

1. Know Where to Find Information

As CPT® Assistant (December 2010) explains, modifier 33 was created in response to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires all healthcare insurers to cover certain preventive services and immunizations without cost sharing. In other words, insurers must waive their members’ co-pays and deductibles, and pay, in full, for specified covered services. By appending modifier 33, the provider alerts the insurer that a covered preventive service was provided, and that patient cost-sharing does not apply.

2. Know Which Services Are Covered

Only select preventive services and immunizations are fully covered under ACA. You may append modifier 33 to identify preventive services that fall into the following four categories, per AMA instructions:
1. Services rated “A” or “B” by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Services with an “A” rating have been judged to have a high certainty that the net benefit is substantial. Services with a “B” rating have been judged to have a high certainty of moderate to substantial net benefit.
2. Preventive care and screenings for children as recommended by Bright Futures (American Academy of Pediatrics) and Newborn Testing (American College of Medical Genetics), as supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
3. Preventive care and screenings provided for women (not included in the USPSTF recommendations) in the comprehensive guidelines supported by HRSA. Examples falling into the categories above include HIV screening in adults and adolescents at an increased risk for HIV infection, bacteriuria screening for pregnant women, blood pressure screening in adults, and colorectal cancer screening in adults beginning at age 50.
4. Immunizations for routine use in children, adolescents, and adults as recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Examples include Zostavax immunization in adults; inactivated polivirus for children; and hepatitis A and B, human papillomavirus, measles, mumps, and rubella, and influenza for both adults and children.

When reporting a claim with modifier 33, medical records are not required, but must be available upon request.

3. Apply Modifier 33 for Private Payers Only

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has not issued any guidance for modifier 33. There’s a good reason for this: Medicare and Medicaid do not recognize modifier 33.

Claims submitted to Medicare containing modifier 33 will be returned with Medicare Outpatient Adjudication (MOA) code MA130, which indicates that the claim contains incomplete and/or invalid information that is “unprocessable.” As such, you should only append modifier 33 for non-Medicare payers, as per AMA instructions.

Medicare is not exempt from the requirements of ACA, and must pay in full for covered services; however, Medicare requires the use of dedicated G codes that specifically describe covered services as preventive (e.g., G0202 Screening mammography, producing direct digital image, bilateral, all views). 

4. Turn to Modifier 33 for Screening Turned Diagnostic

You may also apply modifier 33 when a preventive service must be converted to a therapeutic service. “The most notable example of this,” according to CPT® Assistant, “is screening colonoscopy [45378 Colonoscopy, flexible, proximal to splenic flexure; diagnostic, with or without collection of specimen(s) by brushing or washing, with or without colon decompression (separate procedure)] that results in a polypectomy [e.g., 45383 Colonoscopy, flexible, proximal to splenic flexure; with ablation of tumor(s), polyp(s), or other lesion(s) not amenable to removal by hot biopsy forceps, bipolar cautery or snare technique].”

5. Selected Services Covered In-network Only

Insurers are permitted to require cost sharing for those services that are not covered under the ACA. Insurers also are permitted to impose cost sharing — or choose not to provide coverage — for recommended preventive services provided out-of-network. Treatment resulting from a preventive screening is subject to cost-sharing if it is not a recommended preventive service.

6. Apply Modifier 33 to All Eligible Services

If a physician provides multiple preventive medical services to the same (non-Medicare) patient on the same day, append modifier 33 to the codes describing each preventive service rendered on that day.

7. Cost Sharing Doesn’t Apply for Separate, Same-day Services

The insurer may not impose cost sharing if the primary reason for an office visit is to receive a preventive service; however, per the AMA, cost-sharing is allowed for an office visit if the office visit and covered preventive service are billed separately, and the primary purpose of the office visit is not to deliver the covered preventive service. To illustrate, CPT® Assistant provides the following examples:

  • “A 45-year-old male individual receives a cholesterol screening test, which is a recommended preventive service, during an office visit for hypertension management. The plan or issuer may impose cost-sharing requirements for the office visit because the recommended preventive service is billed as a separate charge and the office visit was not primarily for preventive services.”
  • “An individual receives a recommended preventive service that is not billed as a separate charge. The primary purpose for the office visit is a recurring abdominal pain and not the delivery of a recommended preventive service. Therefore, the plan or issuer may impose cost-sharing requirements for the office visit.”
  • “An individual receives a recommended preventive service that is not billed as a separate charge, ie, it is part of the office visit and the delivery of said service is the primary purpose of the office visit. Therefore, the plan or issuer may not impose cost-sharing requirements for the office visit.”

8. Designated Preventive Services Don’t Require 33

Do not append modifier 33 for “separately reported services specifically identified as preventive,” per CPT® Appendix A. Included in this category are any HCPCS Level II G codes for preventive services, such as G0202 (screening mammography), G0103 (prostate cancer screening), and G0389 (abdominal aortic aneurysm screening. Use HCPCS Level II codes to describe services provided for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Use CPT® codes, when applicable, to report services for patients covered by private insurance.

For example, to report a covered screening mammography for a non-Medicare patient, you would report 77057 Screening mammography, bilateral (2-view film study of each breast). Modifier 33 is not required because 77057 is a designated screening service. To report the same service for a Medicare patient, report G0202. Modifier 33 is neither required nor accepted by Medicare.

Rita Von Holtum, CPC-H, lead coder at Sanford Health, has been working in health care for 33 years. Working for a smaller facility, she has worn many hats including coding ED, outpatient, ambulatory surgery, and inpatient accounts. In 2001, she became a certified coder with AAPC. Rita is on the facility Compliance Committee, where her departments work with the Corporate Compliance department on changes and concerns. She mentors new and fellow coders.

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10 Responses to “8 Tips Give You Straight Facts on Modifier 33”

  1. Bobbie says:

    How would this be for Anesthesia? We are currently having issues with our billing program that wants to bill as QK PT QS, but wouldn’t the order be QK QS PT to Medicare?
    We bill as 00810 with findings with MAC (V76.51, 211.3) so wouldn’t this be coded as QK QS PT?

  2. Shari says:

    I just had the same question come up and saw this article and then realized it is REALLY old!! But I think the way your billing program is doing it is correct from what else I have found so far. I hope it is, that’s how we just billed some!

  3. darla Atchison says:

    can you use a modifier 33 on a vaccine code? i have seen some on some claims

  4. ASaiz says:

    Thank you for your comment. You’ll find a lot of suggestions and better answers to your question in the Member Forums.

  5. Melissa McDaniel says:

    Would you use the modifier 33 in ambulatory surgery center or outpatient hospital facility billing, for Colon screenings that turn diagnostic?
    Thank you,

  6. trish says:

    I am struggling with this, too. Pt has a strong family history of colo cancer, she has a history of colon polyps, she has commercial insurance and he snared a polyp during the procedure. Her last colonoscopy was 5 years ago.
    I coded it:
    1. K63.5 – Polyp of colon
    2. Z86.010 – Personal history of colonic polyps
    3. Z15.09 – Genetic susceptibility to other malignant neoplasm
    She is upset because she is responsible for her deductible, if I add the 33 modifier…will it change anything? Is this a scenario where I would use it normally??

  7. Debbie Magoon says:

    I would love an answer to the question if an ASC or Outpatient Facility can use the 33 modifier as well. UHC patients are in particular feeling a significant impact from this problem with deductibles being applied to “true” screening (initial presentation) procedures.

  8. Patty says:

    OMG, is there really coders who cannot understand what you just explained. How much clearer would you have to make this. Not only have you made this clear, but anyone who is using medical codes needs to read the codes BEFORE THEY USE THEM, AND THE MODIFERS. IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE THEM, DO NOT APPLY THEM, UNTIL YOU VERIFY THEMN. Please, I may have had to let my credentials expire because I became so sick and I do not have the income to maintain the cost to keep them right now, But I myself have taught Medical Billing, Coding and Insurance for 14 years and I also am a Compliance Officer. Please coders, just please wake up and protect yourself. Make sure you know how to do your job ! Nobody that you are working for is going to take the blame for you when Medicare comes in with an audit.

  9. Sesh Ven says:

    Can ACP code CPT 99497 be used at Skilled Nursing facility (SNF)?
    Can we append CPT 99305 (new admit @ SNF),
    subsequent visit CPT 99308/99309
    Annual physical CPT 99318
    with modifier 33 depending on when you discuss Advanced Care planning?
    Any suggestions

  10. Lauri Watson says:

    Love this, however, I have tried to use this when billing for breast pumps (each medical policy specifically states breast pumps are covered under the ACA), and insurance companies (BCBS, Cigna, Carecentrix), have NO IDEA what this means. They still apply a co-insurance or deductible to the claim.