Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's Coding Season!

I'm sometimes asked if there's a busy time of year for coders or if it's pretty much status quo. As a matter of fact, there is a busy time of year for coders and this is it!

Every year, we gear up for all the upcoming year's coding changes. That means letting coders know which codes have been deleted, expanded, and added and letting coders, physicians, administrators, and revenue cycle personnel know how code-based reimbursement will be affected in the coming year. This may seem rather straightforward, but since we work with more than one code set with different implementation dates, fourth quarter of each year can be pretty crazy!

ICD-9-CM Codes
The ICD-9-CM diagnosis and procedure codes are updated annually with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) fiscal year (FY), which begins October 1. These codes are used to report diagnoses for all health care settings and procedures for hospital inpatients. Right now, you will find coders acquiring their FY 2011 ICD-9-CM code books and attending seminars on the code updates. Some of this year's highlights include:

Diagnosis Codes:
  • A new code for obesity hypoventilation syndrome
  • Expansion of fluid overload code to differentiate between transfusion-associated fluid overload and other causes
  • Expansion of the avian flu codes to include manifestations of the disease
  • Expansion of the blood transfusion incompatibility codes to differentiate between ABO and Rh incompatibility
  • Additional personal history codes
  • Expansion of the body mass index (BMI) codes up to allow for classification of BMI in varying increments up to 70 and over
  • A new section of V codes to report retained foreign body fragments
  • A new section of V codes to report the number of placentae associated with multiple fetal gestations
ICD-9-CM diagnosis codes are within the public domain and the 2011 revisions can be found on the National Center for Health Statistics' (NCHS) website.

Procedure Codes:
  • New code for placement of a central venous catheter under imaging guidance
  • New codes for carotid sinus stimulation components and devices
Changes to the ICD-9-CM procedure codes are within the public domain and are available on CMS' website.

The inpatient prospective payment system (IPPS), the system used for Medicare payments for inpatient hospitalizations, is also updated each year on October 1. This includes recalibration of the relative weights for the classification system used under IPPS - the Medicare severity diagnosis related groups (MS-DRGs). This year, the major changes to the MS-DRGs include:
  • A documentation and coding adjustment of -2.9%, wherein CMS will discount payments in FY 2011 to hospitals by 2.9% in order to remain budget neutral. The attempt to remain budget neutral is to counteract the financial impact of implementing a severity-based DRG system 3 years ago.
  • The addition of 12 new quality measures to be reported by hospitals under the Reporting Hospital Quality Data for Annual Payment Update (RHQDAPU) program.
  • A revamping of Medicare's 3-day rule, which bundles payment for outpatient services provided within 3 days of inpatient admission into the inpatient payment.
Changes to the IPPS and MS-DRGs are available in the public domain through CMS' website as well as the Federal Register.

CPT Codes
Changes to CPT codes become effective with each calendar year on January 1. These codes are used to report procedures and services for physicians and hospital outpatients. Because CPT codes are owned and maintained by the American Medical Association (AMA), they are not available in the public domain. As such, finding a list of upcoming CPT code changes is often a closely guarded secret until the CPT book is published, generally around November or December each year.

The best way to get updates on upcoming CPT codes is to attend either the AHIMA's Annual Clinical Coding Meeting (September 25 and 26, 2010 in Orlando) for the national code update or the AMA's CPT and RBRVS Symposium (November 10-12, 2010 in Chicago). After the AMA's Symposium, it's common to see articles appearing in coding journals and publications discussing the upcoming coding changes.

HCPCS codes are developed and maintained by CMS to report services, supplies, and procedures that are not found in CPT. They are utilized by physicians and hospital outpatient reporting. HCPCS codes are potentially updated quarterly, although an update isn't always required that frequently. HCPCS codebooks may be purchased on an annual basis with the calendar year and quarterly updates are found on CMS' website. HCPCS codes are in the public domain and general information about their use can also be found on CMS' website.

The outpatient prospective payment system (OPPS) is the payment system utilized by Medicare to pay for hospital outpatient claims. This is updated on January 1 each year, along with the CPT and HCPCS codes. The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on August 3 and CMS accepted public comment on that proposed rule through August 31. CMS will review the comments, make final determinations, and finalize the rule by November 1.

OPPS changes include recalibration of the relative weights for ambulatory payment classifications (APCs), the categories used to group similar procedures for payment.

Some highlights of the proposed rule include:
  • Two areas that have undergone frequent changes or requested changes will remain static for 2011: drug and substance administration and hospital outpatient evaluation and management visit guidelines
  • Establishment of a list of services that must be performed under physician supervision
  • Removal of three orthopedic codes from the inpatient-only list, making them reimbursable as outpatients under Medicare
  • A new method of paying for separately payable drugs
Information about OPPS and APCs can be found on CMS' website.

Physician Fee Schedule and RVUs
Physician payment, as outlined in the physician fee schedule, is updated annually on January 1 by Medicare. The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on July 13 and the comment period ended on August 24. The physician fee schedule outlines the relative value units (RVUs) for each CPT code based on the amount of work the physician performs. Information on the Medicare physician fee schedule and RVUs is within the public domain and can be found on Medicare's website.

Too Much Information?
It sounds like an awful lot of information, but remember this - not every coding professional needs to learn the ins and outs of every coding and payment system. Because I work with hospital clients, I will be focusing on everything but the physician fee schedule. And those who work in physician offices will focus on ICD-9-CM diagnosis code changes, CPT/HCPCS code changes, and the physician fee schedule only. Even so, it's enough of an impact to call fourth quarter "coding season!"