Necessary Evil: Change

John Nelson, MD, FHM, FACP

The amount and complexity of medical knowledge we need to keep up with is changing and growing at a remarkable rate. I was trained in an era in which it was taken as a given that congestive heart failure patients should not receive beta-blockers; now it is a big mistake if we don’t prescribe them in most cases. But even before starting medical school, most of us realize that things will change a lot, and many of us see that as a good thing. It keeps our work interesting. Just recently, our hospital had a guest speaker who talked about potential medical applications of nanotechnology. It was way over my head, but it sounded pretty cool.

The net financial impact of this change probably will be positive for most HM groups because you probably bill very few initial consult codes, and instead were stuck billing a follow-up visit code when seeing comanagement “consults.”

While I was prepared for ongoing changes in medical knowledge, I failed to anticipate how quickly the business of medicine would change during my career. I think the need to keep up with ever-increasing financial and regulatory issues siphons a lot of time and energy that could be used to keep up with the medical knowledge base. I wasn’t prepared for this when I started my career.

Because it is the start of a new year, I thought I would highlight one issue related to CPT coding: Medicare stopped recognizing consult codes as of Jan. 1 (see “Consultation Elimination,” p. 31).

New Rules for Medicare Billing

CMS has eliminated the use of all consultation CPT/HCPC codes. This includes inpatient codes (99251-99255) and office/outpatient codes (99241-99245) for various places of service. The only exception is for telehealth consultation G-codes. Instead of consultation codes, providers are instructed to bill initial hospital care (99221-99223), initial nursing facility care (99304-99306), or initial office visits (99201-99205), as applicable.

In order to distinguish the admitting physician from others who will be using the initial care codes, CMS will create a modifier that the admitting provider will append to the initial care code to identify them as the admitting provider of record. Others will simply bill the applicable initial care code without a modifier whenever a patient is seen for the first time.

CMS proposes to implement this rule in a budget-neutral way by increasing the wRVUs for initial hospital and nursing facility visits by about 0.3%, and increasing the wRVUs for both new and existing office visits by about 6%. In addition, CMS will adjust the practice expense and malpractice expense RVUs for the initial visit codes to recognize the increased use of these visits.

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