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Proposed Change Presents Opportunity for AAPC Membership to Influence the Future of E/M Service Reporting

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  • July 19, 2018
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By now, many of you have read or at least heard about the proposed changes to E/M service reporting included in the CMS proposed rule relating to the 2019 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.  This proposal was published in the July 27, 2018 Federal Register.  Because there are only sixty (60) days to submit comments, the National Advisory Board (NAB); specifically, the Thought Leadership committee, is evaluating the CMS proposal for the purpose of preparing comments and recommendations to CMS on behalf of AAPC.
To summarize the change, CMS outlined a three-part proposal pertaining to New and Established outpatient E/M services (CPT 99201-99215) that includes: 1) simplifying the documentation of the history and examination to permit providers to focus on only the relevant elements of information at the encounter; 2) remove the history and examination elements from the determination of the level of E/M service and instead focus on medical decision-making as the sole determining factor to the selection of the E/M service level (the option to determine the level based on time where counseling or coordination of care will be maintained but CMS proposes to require providers to document the necessity for the time spent at the encounter) and; 3) establish only four payment rates – a payment rate for 99201, 99202-99205, 99211 and 99212-99215. This proposal would result in providers being paid the same for a 99202, 99203, 99204 or 99205 and the same would be true for established patient visits reported using 99212, 99213, 99214 or 99215.  The proposed allowance for 99212-99215 is an amount between the current allowances for 99213 and 99214 and the proposed allowance for CPT 99202-99205 is an amount between the current allowances for 99203 and 99204.  The allowances for 99211 and 99201 are essentially unchanged.
After review of the proposal, there are a number of potential issues that come to mind.  One of the benefits that CMS does not expressly address is that such a change would effectively eliminate post-payment risk associated with improper coding of E/M services.  Because the reimbursement levels are the same for levels 2 through 5 of each visit type, a technical error in the level reported would have no financial impact to either CMS or the provider. As a result, there is no need to validate the code level reported either before or after-the-fact. That issue aside, you might wonder why there would therefore be a need to maintain five different levels of service for both new and established patient E/M services.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to change CPT to only reflect two code levels for both new and established patient E/M services?  As it is apparent that CMS did not coordinate the proposed change with the CPT Editorial Panel, even absent a change to the actual numerical codes in CPT, given that the level of E/M will no longer be based on history and examination, a corresponding change to the descriptions of the various E/M codes to reflect that history and examination are no longer “key” components would appear to be necessary.  Additionally, there is no apparent need to maintain the distinctions as to the various descriptive levels of history and examination since such distinctions would no longer be relevant.
As there will be no apparent change to CPT (presumably to permit commercial payers to maintain the current system) maybe CMS should instead create new Medicare only HCPCS codes for reporting new and established patient E/M services to avoid the confusion that will no doubt be caused when attempting to fit existing codes into this new reimbursement system.  Finally, to the extent that CMS might consider the creation of new HCPCS codes to represent the two levels of new and established patient E/M services, since the level will be based on medical decision-making and potentially time, CMS should also consider revising the current four levels of MDM (straightforward, low, moderate, high) as well as the five different time distinctions to only two consistent with the two levels of service it is effectively creating under this proposal.
As is the case with every proposed rule, there are always unanswered questions.  The comment process provides us with the opportunity to not only identify potential problems but to provide proposed solutions.  As a result, we have a real opportunity to influence how or even if the proposed changes will be implemented in the final rule.  So that we may be an effective voice and provide the best input possible, I encourage each member to review the proposal. Discuss it with your physicians.  Look at each physician’s E/M reporting profile to determine if the revised payment methodology will result in an overall net increase or decrease in reimbursement.  For those that will experience a net increase, there is a presumption that the change will be welcomed.  Where the change will negatively impact a provider’s overall reimbursement, ask your physicians if the reduced documentation burden, not to mention the diminished post payment review and refund risk, makes the payment reduction worth it.  Identify any additional problems that might arise and provide a proposal for how to address those problems.
While all are encouraged to draft and submit comments directly to CMS, we hope that you will also share your input with the NAB.  To simplify the process of obtaining your comments, we have published a survey to make collection and analysis of member input a little easier.  After review of your input, the NAB will prepare formal comments and recommendations for submission to CMS.  It is our hope that the submission of well-thought out comments and recommendations based on input from our over 175,000 members will not only help shape the final rule but will create well-deserved recognition of the expertise of AAPC members on these issues in the minds of CMS.
Thanks in advance for your assistance!

Evaluation and Management – CEMC

Michael Miscoe

About Has 55 Posts

Michael D. Miscoe, JD, CPC, CASCC, CUC, CCPC, CPCO, CPMA, CEMA, AAPC Fellow, has nearly 30 years of experience in healthcare coding and over 25 years as a forensic coding/compliance expert and consultant. Mr. Miscoe’s law practice concentrates on representation of healthcare providers involved in post-payment disputes. He has an extensive national speaking background and has been published in numerous publications on a variety of coding, compliance, and health law topics.

No Responses to “Proposed Change Presents Opportunity for AAPC Membership to Influence the Future of E/M Service Reporting”

  1. Pamela Miller says:

    What does the acronym NAB stand for? I have done several internet and AAPC site searches, but am unfamiliar with this acronym.

  2. Pamela Miller says:

    National Advisory Board.

  3. Victoria Moll says:

    Thank you, Mike. I’m certainly going to add some of my suggestions to the mix through the survey and other means. I agree, changing the rules for CMS doesn’t really relieve the provider burden if all other payers continue to follow the old regulations. It will go the same way as CMS no longer accepting consultation codes — more confusion between what the different payers want. There’s definitely ideas to improve on our existing E&M scoring system. For example, in the world of EMR most providers have a template for ROS. Make the requirements that either a ROS was performed or not performed, instead of scrutinizing how many systems. Or if we truly will go by just MDM, the risk table in particular will need a facelift.
    I’m sure all of our awesome members at AAPC can help provide some great ideas for CMS. I’m curious to see how this will unfold.

  4. Cindy says:

    Where is the incentive for physicians to get paid for what they do? This new proposal definitely will impact the physicians negatively & I hope that enough physicians contact their legislators to voice their concerns & be heard. Every time Medicare proposes something it’s always a pay cut for the providers. It may seem like nothing to the large hospital based provider office but it will be a major impact to the physician owned practices.

  5. Tabatha says:

    I am concerned for the stability of the coding field after a change such as this would take place. Where would you see coding going in the future with these proposed changes?

  6. Brad Ericson says:

    National Advisory Board

  7. Michele Tucker says:

    in my field 70% of my physician’s visits take an hour – the others take 30 minutes. 2 fee reimbursements will not adequately reimburse for the time and discussion needed to have patients understand their complex medical issues. All this change is going to do is make even more physicians drop Medicare, and Arizona is already considered a shortage area. This really needs to be investigated further

  8. Tammy says:

    I have the same concern as Tabatha. I am a consultant and my full-time job is auditing/educating providers on how to comply with E/M guidelines. It doesn’t sound like there will be a need for my services if this goes through. What are your thoughts from this perspective?

  9. Lynne Dimitrov says:

    New patients are not always forthcoming with important health information. Most patients won’t volunteer information unless you ask direct questions. They tend to focus only on what is bothering them at the moment. The physician really needs to do a complete history and exam to be sure nothing is overlooked.

  10. Kate says:

    I’m concerned for this change. True, it’ll simplify things for those providers that already have difficulty documenting what they do thus have had difficulty supporting their level of work. I fear that essentially removing the levels would further promote more laid back documentation. From the training I’ve done with providers, the majority are able to grasp the current rules of E&M coding once educated. The remainder typically already have enough difficulty documenting in an EHR and refuse to add any further steps to their process.
    At this point I am more in agreement that if Medicare wants to pay a flat rate regardless of the level of work the providers do then they should implement their own HCPCS codes. My client base is primarily FQHCs so they are used to using a G-code to bill Medicare and then the corresponding billing method to the other insurances afterwards where appropriate. If FQHCs already know how to bill in a CMS specific HCPCS code world then it shouldn’t be that hard for others to also implement. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on this but what I fear most is an increase in incomplete and/or inappropriate documentation as the levels will no longer matter. If the work done doesn’t equate to anything different, what promotes appropriate documentation?

  11. Tanya says:

    I also have questions regarding the field I have spent much of my working career in. What will be happening to those of us that hold the CPMA certification that was pushed so hard just a few short years ago? This seems as if this certification will become obsolete with the passing of this proposal. I also do not see where physicians have anything to gain here. I fear for the QUALITY of health care as this will only force providers to spend less time with each patient so they insure they will make enough money to pay their bills. I understand healthcare reform must be made however I feel only the patient’s (you and & I) will be suffering from this in the bigger picture.

  12. Pamela Miller says:

    I am on the fence as to whether the proposed change will be a positive or negative change when considering all the moving parts of the industry, i.e. private family practice, specialty, hospital based outpatient, FQHC, commercial insurance, Medicare, Medicaid… I would however, like to comment on my strong opinion of the use of HCPCS codes to replace the current CPT codes for Medicare for E/M work, should the change pass. Although the change from coverage from Prevention Visits to AWV/IPPE is not exactly the same as this scenario, there are lessons to be learned for rolling out new Medicare documentation requirements/processes. The switch in coding from CPT to HCPCS inidicates it as a Medicare specific change requiring different documentation and possibly different clinical work flow changes. This change would leave existing processes in place for commercial and other insurances still requiring original E/M documentation and separates out Medicare and Medicare Advantage patients for this new documentation/process with regard to work done for evaluation and management of illness and/or symptoms. The desired change of ‘patients over paperwork’ is the driving force behind this change and IPPE/AWV’s have already paved the way for the mindset that Medicare is beginning re-evaluate how medical care is managed in the United States, looking for possibilities of simplification/cost reduction overall.

  13. Anonymously concerned coder says:

    Although as a coder my career is VERY important, how about we think of this from a patient/provider perspective. Reducing documentation means it will be harder to distinguish what happened in the visit and track treatment appropriately, not to mention the “negligence” factor if a patient states that the physician ignored their complaints. This will only create new problems.
    They should just clarify the current E/M standards and update the guidelines.