Ob-Gyn Coding Alert


Bust These Modifier 24 Myths to Avoid Falling into These Ob-Gyn Billing Traps

Hint: Focus on the documentation, not the diagnosis codes.

To ensure payment for E/M services your ob-gyn performs within the global period of a surgical procedure, you must know the ins and outs of modifier 24 (Unrelated evaluation and management service by the same physician or other qualified health care professional during a postoperative period). At times even seasoned billers struggle with this modifier.

Overcome modifier 24 claim challenges by busting five myths that will lead to denial after denial if you fall into their billing trap.

Myth #1: Modifier 24 Applies to Any Service Done In the Post-Op Period

You should only append modifier 24 to an appropriate E/M code when an E/M service occurs during a postoperative global period for reasons unrelated to the original procedure. Modifier 24 tells the payer that the surgeon is seeing the patient for a new problem.

Modifier 24 is only for use on E/M codes, and only for use during the post-operative period (10 days or 90 days). The very definition of the modifier states it plainly: “unrelated evaluation and management service.”

Rule: You cannot bill separately for E/M services related to the original surgery during the global period. The global surgical package includes routine postoperative care during the global period.

Additionally: Modifier 24 only applies to services your physician performs after the surgical procedure. If your physician performs an E/M service before a procedure, on the day of that procedure, you would need modifier 25 (for minor procedures) or modifier 57 (for major procedures). Modifier 57 (Decision for surgery) also applies to E/M services rendered the day before the major procedure. This is true provided that the E/M code is significant and separately identifiable.

Myth #2: A Scheduled Office Visit Rules Out Use of Modifier 24

Just because a patient is scheduled for an office follow-up post-operative visit related to his surgery, you shouldn’t automatically assume that you would be unable to bill for a separate service using modifier 24.

Example: A patient has a biopsy of a lesion on her cervix. When the patient returns a week later for suture removal, she is notified that the pathological examination revealed a malignant tumor. The ob-gyn, then, has a face-to-face discussion with the patient concerning new extended treatment for the tumor. The ob-gyn bills an E/M office visit based on the time he spent with the patient counseling her on the necessary therapy and coordinating her further treatment. But be careful: the routine care associated with the biopsy is not counted toward the total office visit time as it is related to recovery and not the separate counseling time.

In this case, you should use modifier 24 to describe an E/M service unrelated to the surgery (only related to the disease process).

“CPT® would always allow this but even Medicare states that care directed at the underlying disease process is separately billable in the global period,” says Marcella Bucknam, CPC, CCS-P, COC, CCS, CPC-P, CPC-I, CCC, COBGC, revenue cycle analyst with Klickitat Valley Health in Goldendale, Washington.

Key: Even though the visit was scheduled as a follow-up post-operative visit, you can use modifier 24 to ensure payment when the above clinical circumstances occur.

“People put too much emphasis on how a visit was scheduled,” Bucknam says. “No one typically sees your clinic schedule. It’s the documentation that counts. Additionally, no one would think that they shouldn’t bill separately if the patient came in for follow up and also had a broken finger! It’s the same thing, just more subtle.”

Myth #3: You Can’t Use Modifier 24 For Postoperative Services

When you report postoperative services to payers that follow CPT® guidelines, you’ll need to append modifier 24 to the E/M code to indicate that the service took place during the surgery’s global period.

Example: If a patient has abdominal surgery and returns to your office with a postoperative wound infection along the suture line, you may be able to collect from private payers for an established patient visit and for the physician’s treatment of the infection.

If the physician treats the infection in his office, you may be able to file a claim using modifier 24 to those payers following CPT® guidelines.

Pointer: Complications of surgery can be separate and billable in some cases, unless the payer is following Medicare rules. Medicare does not allow post-operative complications (hematoma, seroma, infection, etc.) to be reimbursed separately unless there is a need to return to the operating room. At that point, a different modifier comes into play.

CMS and CPT® agree: If the physician must return to the OR to treat a postop complication, both Medicare and private payers will pay at a reduced rate when you append the appropriate modifier to the surgical CPT® code describing the surgeon’s treatment of the postsurgical complication. If the surgeon returns to the operating room to surgically correct a post-operative complication during the global period of a previous surgery, the correct modifier is 78 (Unplanned return to the operating/procedure room by the same physician or other qualified health care professional following initial procedure for a related procedure during the postoperative period).

Bottom line: Determining whether complications of the surgery/procedure count as unrelated, and therefore mean you’ll use 24, means you must know what the guidelines are for the insurance company being billed. Medicare considers all complications part of global unless the patient is taken back to the OR. Most commercial insurances however will allow complications to be billed during global with the modifier 24.

Myth #4: There Must Be a New Diagnosis If You Use Modifier 24

While a different ICD-10 diagnostic code might indicate that the E/M service performed in a global period was unrelated to the surgery, you do not have to have different diagnoses to append modifier 24 and to receive payment for those services.

“It is not necessary that the two services have a different diagnosis, but it should be clear that the service is performed to discuss results, prognosis and treatment options and that any work done related to the surgery (change bandages, check wound, etc.) is not used to support the level of service billed,” Bucknam says.

Caveat: It is not mandatory to have a different diagnosis. However, that said, for some insurance companies it is easier to get them to pay for the E/M completed during post op if the diagnosis is different, experts say.

Pitfall: Do not code the E/M if the documentation is not adequate - for instance, includes only a sentence to describe the problem during a routine postop visit. Billing under this circumstance might be considered fraud and certainly not an area where any coder or biller should go. The proper use of modifier 24 can legally increase revenue and should be applied if appropriate.

Myth #5: You Should Never Use Modifiers 24 and 25 Together

You may find yourself in situations where you need to combine the forces of modifiers 24 and 25 (Significant, separately identifiable evaluation and management service by the same physician or other qualified health care professional on the same day of the procedure or other service) to avoid a denial of a claim. You can use 24 and 25 on the same claim, if you are seeing a patient for a completely new issue within the post op period, a procedure was done that same day, and the E/M code is significant and separately identifiable from the procedure.

Example: A patient undergoes major surgery. During the postoperative period, the patient comes for an office visit that is absolutely unrelated to the first surgery. At the unrelated E/M visit, the physician also performs a minor surgical procedure (such as a biopsy or cystoscopic examination) unrelated to the initial surgical procedure. In this case, you will append both modifiers 24 and 25 to the E/M code — modifier 24 to allow payment of the E/M service in the global period of the initial surgery and modifier 25 to allow payment of the E/M service along with another procedure performed on the same day.

But remember, if you are performing an office procedure during the postoperative period of another procedure, that code will also require a modifier such as 79 (Unrelated procedure or service by the same physician or other qualified health care professional during the postoperative period) or 58 (Staged or related procedure or service by the same physician or other qualified health care professional during the postoperative period).

Tip: Always use the postoperative modifier (24) first, before you use other modifiers. Most computers sequence their edits, putting the postoperative period edits as the primary edit.