Modifiers are two-digit representations used in conjunction with a service or procedure code (e.g., 99233-25) during claim submission to alert payors that the service or procedure was performed under a special circumstance. Modifiers can:
- Identify body areas;
- Distinguish multiple, separately identifiable services;
- Identify reduced or multiple services of the same or a different nature; or
- Categorize unusual events surrounding a particular service.1
Many questions arise over appropriate modifier use. Hospitalist misconceptions typically involve surgical comanagement or multiple services on the same day. Understanding when to use modifiers is imperative for proper claim submission and reimbursement.
Most hospitalists know payors allow reimbursement for only one visit per specialty, per patient, per day; however, some payors further limit coverage to a single service (i.e., a visit or a procedure) unless physician documentation demonstrates a medical necessity for each billed service. When two visits are performed on the same date by the same physician, or by two physicians of the same specialty within the same group, only one cumulative service should be reported.2
Consideration of two notes during visit-level selection does not authorize physicians to report a higher visit level (e.g., 99233 for two notes instead of 99232 for one note). If the cumulative documentation does not include the necessary elements of history, exam, or medical decision-making that are associated with 99233, the physician must report the lower visit level that accurately reflects the content of the progress note (for more information on documentation guidelines, visit www.cms.hhs.gov/MLNEdWebGuide/25_EMDOC.asp).
One exception to this “single cumulative service” rule occurs when a physician provides a typical inpatient service (e.g., admission or subsequent hospital care) for chronic obstructive bronchitis with acute exacerbation (diagnosis code 491.21) early in the day, and later the patient requires a second, more intense encounter for acute respiratory distress (diagnosis code 518.82) that meets the definition of critical care (99291). In this scenario, the physician is allowed to report both services on the same date, appending modifier 25 to the initial service (i.e., 99233-25) because each service was performed for distinct reasons.
If different physicians in the same provider group and specialty provided the initial and follow-up services, each physician reports the corresponding service in their own name with modifier 25 appended to the subsequent hospital care service (as above). Please note that physicians may not report both services if critical care is the initial service of the day. In this latter scenario, the physician reports critical-care codes (99291, 99292) for all of his or other group members’ encounters provided in one calendar day.3
Visits and Procedures
When a physician bills for a procedure and a visit (inpatient or outpatient) on the same day, most payors “bundle” the visit payment into that of the procedure. Some payors do provide separate payment for the visit, if the service is separately identifiable from the procedure (i.e., performed for a separate reason). To electronically demonstrate this on the claim form, the physician appends modifier 25 to the visit. Although not required, it is strongly suggested that, when possible, the primary diagnosis for the visit differs from the one used with the procedure. This will further distinguish the services. However, different diagnoses may not be possible when the physician evaluates the patient and decides, during the course of the evaluation, that a procedure is warranted. In this case, the physician may only have a single diagnosis to list with the procedure and the visit.