In November 2012, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized its 2013 physician fee schedule with two new transitional-care-management (TCM) codes, 99495 and 99496. These codes provide reimbursement for transitional-care services to patients for 30 days after hospital discharge. CMS estimates that two-thirds of the 10 million Medicare patients discharged annually from hospitals will have TCM services provided by an outpatient doctor. Why might hospitalists be interested in these outpatient codes? Read on.
As a post-discharge provider in a primary-care-based discharge clinic, I can say the new Medicare transitional codes read like our job description. Because I’ve worked in a post-discharge clinic for the past three years, I have learned that post-discharge care requires time and resource allocation beyond routine outpatient care. Because of the unique population we see, on average we bill at a higher level than the rest of the practice. Yet we, like all outpatient providers, remain constrained by the existing billing structure, which is intimately connected to physician face-to-face visits.
Here’s an illustration of a typical afternoon in the post-discharge clinic: A schizophrenic patient presents with renal failure, hypoglycemia, and confusion. Her home visiting nurse (VNA) administers her medications; the patient cannot tell you any of them. While you are calling the VNA to clarify her medications, trying to identify her healthcare proxy, and stopping her ACE inhibitor because her potassium is 5.6, the next patient arrives. She has end-stage liver disease and was recently in the hospital for liver failure, and now has worsening recurrent ascites. After clinic, you call interventional radiology to coordinate a therapeutic paracentesis and change diuretic doses after her labs return. Two weeks later, you arrange a repeat paracentesis, and subsequently a transition to comfort care in a hospice house. For this work, right now, you can at most bill a high-complexity office visit (99215), and the rest of the care coordination—by you, your nurse, or your administrative staff—is not compensated.
How Do the New Codes Work?
CMS created the new TCM codes to begin to change the outpatient fee schedule to emphasize primary care and care coordination for beneficiaries, particularly in the post-hospitalization period. The new TCM codes are a first step toward reimbursement for non-face-to-face activities, which are increasingly important in the evolving healthcare system.
The investment is estimated at more than $1 billion in 2013. The new codes are available to physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other advanced-practice nurses only once within the 30 days after hospital discharge. During the 30 days after discharge, the two codes, 99495 and 99496, require a single face-to-face visit within seven days of discharge for the highest-risk patients and within 14 days of discharge for moderate-risk patients. The face-to-face visit is not billed separately. The codes also mandate telephone communication with the patient or caregiver within two business days of hospital discharge; the medical decision-making must be of either moderate or high complexity.
The average reimbursement for the codes will be $132.96 for 99495 and $231.11 for 99496, reflecting a higher wRVU than either hospital discharge day management or high-acuity outpatient visits. The code is billed at the end of the 30 days. The TCM code cannot be billed a second time if a patient is readmitted within the 30 days. Other E/M codes can be billed during the same time period for additional visits as necessary.