Practice Economics

ICD-10 Flexibility Helps Transition to New Coding Systems, Principles, Payer Policy Requirements


 

Effective October 1, providers submit claims with ICD-10-CM codes. As they adapt to this new system, physicians, clinical staff, and billers should be relying on feedback from each other to achieve a successful transition. On July 6, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in conjunction with the AMA, issued a letter to the provider community offering ICD-10-CM guidance. The joint announcement and guidance regarding ICD-10 flexibilities minimizes the anxiety that often accompanies change and clarifies a few key points about claim scrutiny.1

According to the correspondence, “CMS is releasing additional guidance that will allow for flexibility in the claims auditing and quality reporting process as the medical community gains experience using the new ICD-10 code set.”1 The guidance specifies the flexibility that will be used during the first 12 months of ICD-10-CM use.

This “flexibility” is an opportunity and should not be disregarded. Physician practices can effectively use this time to become accustomed to the ICD-10-CM system, correct coding principles, and payer policy requirements. Internal audit and review processes should increase in order to correct or confirm appropriate coding and claim submission.

Valid Codes

Medicare review contractors are instructed “not to deny physician or other practitioner claims billed under the Part B physician fee schedule through either automated medical review or complex medical review based solely on the specificity of the ICD-10 diagnosis code as long as the physician/practitioner used a valid code from the right family.”2 This “flexibility” will only occur for the first 12 months of ICD-10-CM implementation; the ultimate goal is for providers to assign the correct diagnosis code and the appropriate level of specificity after one year.

The provider goal for this flexibility period is to identify all of the “unspecified codes” used on their claims, review the documentation, and determine the most appropriate code.

The “family code” allowance should not be confused with provision of an incomplete or truncated diagnosis code; these types of codes will always result in claim denial. The ICD-10-CM code presented on the claim form must be carried out to the highest character available for that particular code.

For example, an initial encounter involving an infected peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) is reported with ICD-10-CM T80.212A (local infection due to central venous catheter). An individual unfamiliar with ICD-10-CM nomenclature may not realize that the seventh extension character of the code is required to carry the code out to its highest level of specificity. If T880.212 is mistakenly reported because the encounter detail (i.e., initial encounter [A], subsequent encounter [D], or sequela [S]) was not documented or provided to the biller, the payers’ claim edit system will identify this as a truncated or invalid diagnosis and reject the claim. Therefore, the code is required to be complete. The “flexibility” refers to reporting the code that best reflects the documented condition. As long as the reported code comes from the same family of codes and is valid, the claim cannot be denied.

Code Families

Code families are “codes within a category [that] are clinically related and provide differences in capturing specific information on the type of condition.”3 Upon review, Medicare will allow ICD-10-CM codes from the same code family to be reported on the claim without penalty if the most accurate code is not selected.

For example, a patient with COPD with acute exacerbation is admitted to the hospital. During the 12-month “flexibility” period, the claim could include J44.9 (COPD, unspecified) without being considered erroneous. The most appropriate code, however, is J44.1 (COPD with acute exacerbation). During the course of the hospitalization, if the physician determines that the COPD exacerbation was caused by an acute lower respiratory infection, J44.0 (COPD with acute lower respiratory infection) is the best option.

The provider goal for this flexibility period is to identify all of the “unspecified codes” used on their claims, review the documentation, and determine the most appropriate code. The practice staff assigned to this task would then provide feedback to the physicians to enhance their future reporting strategies. Although “unspecified” codes are often reported by default, physicians and staff should attempt to reduce usage of this code type unless the patient’s condition is unable to be further specified or categorized at a given point in time.

For example, it would not be acceptable to report R10.8 (unspecified abdominal pain) when a more specific diagnosis code can be easily determined by patient history or exam findings (e.g. right upper quadrant abdominal pain, R10.11).

Affected Claims

As previously stated, “Medicare review contractors will not deny physician or other practitioner claims billed under the Part B physician fee schedule through either automated medical review or complex medical record review.”3 The review contractors included are as follows:

  • Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) process claims submitted by physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare professionals and submit payment to those providers according to Medicare rules and regulations (including identifying and correcting underpayments and overpayments);
  • Recovery Auditors (RACs) review claims to identify potential underpayments and overpayments in Medicare fee-for-service, as part of the Recovery Audit Program;
  • Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs) perform investigations that are unique and tailored to the specific circumstances and occur only in situations where there is potential fraud and take appropriate corrective actions; and
  • Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRCs) conduct nationwide medical review as directed by CMS (including identifying underpayments and overpayments).4

This instruction applies to claims that are typically selected for review due to the ICD-10-CM code used on the claim but does not affect claims that are selected for review for other reasons (e.g. modifier 25 [separately identifiable visit performed on the same day as another procedure or service], unbundling, service-specific current procedural terminology code). If a claim is selected for one of these other reasons and does not meet the corresponding criterion, the service will be denied. This instruction also excludes claims for services that correspond to an existing local coverage determination (LCD) or national coverage determination (NCD).

For example, an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) is not considered “medically necessary” when reported with R10.8 (unspecified abdominal pain) and would be denied. EGD requires a more specific diagnosis (e.g. right upper quadrant abdominal pain, R10.11) per Medicare LCD.

Non-Medicare Payer Considerations

Most payers that are required to convert to ICD-10-CM have also provided some guidance about claim submission. Although most do not address the audit and review process, payers will follow some basic principles:

  • Claims submitted with service dates on or after October 1 must use ICD-10-CM codes.
  • Claims submitted with service dates prior to October 1 must use ICD-9-CM codes; this includes claims that are initially submitted after October 1 or require correction and resubmission after October 1.
  • Physician claims will be held to medical necessity guidelines identified by specific ICD-10-CM codes represented in existing payer policies.
  • General equivalence mappings (GEMs) should only be used as a starting point to convert large databases and large code lists from ICD-9 to ICD-10. Many ICD-9-CM codes do not crosswalk directly to an ICD-10-CM code. Physician and staff should continue to use the ICD-10-CM coding books and resources to determine the most accurate code selection.
  • “Unspecified” codes are only for use when the information in the medical record is insufficient to assign a more specific code.5,6,7

Carol Pohlig is a billing and coding expert with the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia. She is on the faculty of SHM’s inpatient coding course.

References

  1. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. CMS and AMA announce efforts to help providers get ready for ICD-10. July 6, 2015. Accessed October 3, 2015.
  2. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. CMS and AMA announce efforts to help providers get ready for ICD-10: frequently asked questions. Accessed October 3, 2015.
  3. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Clarifying questions and answers related to the July 6, 2015 CMS/AMA joint announcement and guidance regarding ICD-10 flexibilities. Accessed October 3, 2015.
  4. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Medicare Learning Network: Medicare claim review programs. May 2015. Accessed October 3, 2015.
  5. Aetna. Preparation for ICD-10-CM: frequently asked questions. Accessed October 3, 2015.
  6. Independence Blue Cross. Transition to ICD-10: frequently asked questions. Accessed October 3, 2015.
  7. Cigna. Ready, Set, Switch: Know Your ICD-10 Codes. Accessed November 16, 2015.

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