Modifier 59 – To Use or Not to Use

Modifier 59 – To Use or Not to Use

I often call Modifier 59 the prednisone of modifiers. That is because it is very powerful and can do a lot for you, like prednisone is for the patient. But at the same time, it is a two-edged sword, the modifier 59 is exceptionally dangerous when used incorrectly and care is not applied, just like a doctor would find for their patient when using prednisone.
Modifier 59 is the universal unbundling modifier. When used on a claim line, it unbundles two procedures that normally would be bundled and not paid together. Modifier 59 is telling the payer that this situation is an exception and although these two codes are normally bundled, there exists a special situation that you should consider which makes these two codes which normally are bundled, separately payable.

Modifier 59 is Adjudicated Automatically

Remember that most claims are automatically adjudicated, without anyone reading or looking at the documentation. All the payer has is what is on the CMS 1500 claim transmission. The Modifier 59 provides extra information so that the claim should get processed correctly because of the claim submitter’s special circumstances without the claim processor having to read the notes.
What are those special circumstances why two procedures that are normally bundled should be paid?  They include:

  1. They were performed during different encounters on the same date of service
  2. They were performed at different anatomical sites or structures
  3. They were performed by different physicians in the same group
  4. There were unusual circumstances that make this case special which would call for both services to be paid.

Use Modifier X Series for 59

Medicare was concerned that providers was submitting the 59 modifier too often, just adding it when they felt they did not like the fact that two codes were bundled, and used the 59 modifier to get the two codes unbundled and paid. So, as of last year, Medicare decided that they would force the coding and billing operations to define why the 59 modifier is being used, so that the provider is making sure that one of the applicable reasons for using a 59 modifier was applicable to the case and is documented. So, Medicare created the following modifiers to replace the 59 modifier for Part B claims only:

  • XE Separate encounter
  • XS Separate structure
  • XP Separate physician
  • XU Unusual situation

Together, these modifiers are referred to as X[ESPU].
So, for Part B Medicare expects you to have reviewed the documentation and determined the reason for using the unbundling modifier and assign a reason to select the correct Part B Medicare modifier. The process is not different when using modifier 59 even though a specific modifier does not have to be defined because the reason and justification for using the 59 modifier still has to be present and the note has to support the 59 modifier because one of the above 4 reasons. So, although we should not use the X[ESPU] modifiers for non-Medicare Part B, we must make sure that we can support one of those X[ESPU] modifiers in the documentation when we select to us the 59 modifier.
I will give examples of how we would use the 59 or the X[ESPU] modifiers in my next blog. Stay tuned.

Barbara Cobuzzi

About Has 99 Posts

Barbara J. Cobuzzi, MBA, CPC, COC, CENTC, CPC-P, CPC-I, CPCO, CMCS, is CEO of CRN Healthcare Solutions and formerly owned a medical billing company. Cobuzzi is a subject matter expert in otolaryngology coding. She provides litigation support as an expert witness for providers and payers and often presents for many local and national organizations. She is also a consulting editor for AAPC’s Otolaryngology Coding Alert newsletter. In 1999, Cobuzzi was named AAPC’s Networker of the Year, and she is a past member of the National Advisory Board. She is one of four founding members of the Monmouth/Ocean, N.J., local chapter and is still active with the chapter.

7 Responses to “Modifier 59 – To Use or Not to Use”

  1. Cindy Fellers says:

    Is -59 modifer ever used on a lab CPT code, is a -59 modifier ever used on an injection code?

  2. Janette Wright says:

    very interesting article. I stumbled onto these Modifiers while I was preparing for my coding exam. Questions regarding them popped up on the practice exam.


    Cindy Fellers, you can use a 59 with an injection code. You can tell if you have AAPC Coder and go into an injection CPT code, for example, 90471 Immunization administration (includes percutaneous, intradermal, subcutaneous, or intramuscular injections); 1 vaccine (single or combination vaccine/toxoid) and then look at the right column and click on the fee schedule and scroll down below the crosswalks section. It shows what modifiers go with the CPT code,. 96372, Therapeutic, prophylactic, or diagnostic injection (specify substance or drug); subcutaneous or intramuscular also allows the 59 modifier. But remember, just because the 59 modifier is allowed, the documentation must support using the 59 modifier.
    I am unsure what lab codes you are inquiring about.

  4. Toni Schafermak says:

    Please Help!!! We continually have denials on the xs modifier. Are we now suppose to use the 59 modifier again? I cant seem to get a straight answer for BCBS.
    Please Help
    Thank you

  5. Tina Anderson says:

    Hi Barbara,
    Can you point me to the guideline that supports not using the X modifiers for Non-Medicare payers? Is this going to be a payer specific rule? BCBS of AL wants 59 while BCBS Anthem says they will accept either. I work for a multi-state organization, so I don’t know if a blanket guideline is going to cover this issue.

  6. Sally Edgeman says:

    I work for a large allergy group, our supervisor has decided we should start using modifier 59 as a standard on all skin tests 95004 over 80 units, for example. 95004 x 80 with no modifier.
    95004 x 28 with a 59 modifier
    In the past we always used a 76 modifier and have been paid with no issues, our claims are going thru with the 59 modifier, but I fear if they are audited in the future, we will have mass recoupments! Any words of advise?
    Thank you!

  7. Renee Dustman says:

    The “X” modifiers were created to be Medicare Part B specific. Some non Medicare payers have adopted the “X” modifiers as well and it is a good idea to use the X modifiers if the payer accepts them. But if the payer has not put the “X” modifiers into their system, you will get no where in getting your claims paid and you should continue to use the 59 modifier.
    Barbara J. Cobuzzi, MBA, CPC, CENTC, COC CPC-P, CPC-I, CPCO