Code an Incomplete Colonoscopy

By G.J. Verhovshek, MA, CPC

Medicare rules for coding colonoscopy differ from American Medical Association (AMA) rules, particularly with regard to “incomplete” colonoscopies.

For a Medicare patient undergoing a screening colonoscopy, if the surgeon is able to advance the scope past the splenic flexure, consider the colonoscopy “complete” and report the appropriate code (e.g., screening code G0105 Colorectal cancer screening; colonoscopy on individual at high risk; or G0121 Colorectal cancer screening; colonoscopy on individual not meeting criteria for high risk, depending on the patient’s risk factors) with no modifier appended. In such a case, Medicare will pay the standard reimbursement rate for the coded procedure.

Medicare Guidance for “Incomplete”

If the physician preps the patient for a screening colonoscopy but cannot advance the scope past the splenic flexure due to obstruction, patient discomfort, or other complications, append modifier 53 Reduced procedural service to the appropriate code, per the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Program Memorandum, transmittal AB-03-114, change request (CR) 2822.

“When a covered colonoscopy is attempted but cannot be completed because of extenuating circumstances … Medicare will pay for the interrupted colonoscopy at a rate consistent with that of a flexible sigmoidoscopy as long as coverage conditions are met for the incomplete procedure,” according to transmittal AB-03-114. Medicare expects the provider to maintain adequate information in the patient’s medical record in case it is needed by the contractor to document the incomplete procedure.

Reporting an incomplete screening should not trigger Medicare frequency limitations or affect your ability to collect appropriate reimbursement for a subsequent complete examination. “It is not appropriate to count the incomplete colonoscopy toward the beneficiary’s frequency limit for a screening colonoscopy because that would preclude the beneficiary’s being able to obtain a covered completed colonoscopy,” instructs transmittal AB-03-114. The transmittal concludes, “If coverage conditions are met, Medicare pays for both the uncompleted colonoscopy and the completed colonoscopy whether the colonoscopy is screening in nature or diagnostic” [emphasis added].

Code It 

For example, one week after an attempted but unsuccessful screening exam, a high-risk patient returns for a second attempt. On this occasion, the physician successfully inserts the scope and fully visualizes the colon past the splenic flexure. The initial exam would have been reported G0105-53, for which the physician should receive reimbursement equivalent to that of a flexible sigmoidoscopy. For the second, successful exam, report G0105 once again, this time without a modifier. Medicare guidelines dictate that your physician will be paid in full for the second exam at the standard fee schedule rate.

CPT® and Other Payer Instructions May Differ

CPT®, in contrast to CMS rules, instructs, “For an incomplete colonoscopy, with full preparation for a colonoscopy, use a colonoscopy code with the modifier 52 [Reduced services] and provide documentation.”

Some non-Medicare payers may follow CMS guidelines for an incomplete colonoscopy (modifier 53), while others may adhere to CPT® instructions (modifier 52). Check with your individual third-party payers for their recommendations.

G.J. Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is managing editor at AAPC.


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One Response to “Code an Incomplete Colonoscopy”

  1. Kimberlee Van Halen says:

    In the article above, you stated -53 modifier is “reduced procedural service” but it’s not. Modifier -53 is “discontinued procedure.” Modifier -52 is “reduced services” or “reduced procedural services.”

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