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Bolster billing compliance: Implement a Medicare Part A triple-check process

Bolster billing compliance: Implement a Medicare Part A triple-check process

Medicare billing is a domain rife with payer offshoots and evolving regulations that can be difficult to navigate without a strategy to weather claim scrutiny and withstand the gaze of CMS’ various auditing contractors.

Enter the triple-check process, a time-tested internal auditing strategy used by proactive long-term care providers to facilitate billing accuracy and compliance the first time a UB-04 claim form is submitted. As its name suggests, triple check is a layered verification process that involves staff members from billing, nursing, and therapy departments?the three core disciplines required to submit a clean claim. But this sturdy foundation is also pliable, allowing a facility to easily adapt the procedure to the various types of claims it files.

Read on for an expert iteration of the triple-check process, which is modified from the HCPro book The Medicare Billing Manual for Long-Term Care, written by Frosini Rubertino, RN, BSN, C-NE, CDONA/LTC. This specific triple-check procedure is designed to mobilize key staff to ensure accuracy and timely submission of Part A claims.



Each month, the SNF will collect all Medicare Part A billing information ready for submission and enlist the following individuals to carry out their designated roles in verifying the accuracy of these items: administrator, director of nursing, MDS coordinator, facility rehab director or designee, business office manager, medical records personnel, and central supply staff.

The following is a breakdown of each of these staff members’ responsibilities in the triple-check process:

Business office manager and medical records personnel

  • Verify that the qualifying stay information recorded on the UB-04 aligns with that on the medical records face sheet.


Business office manager

  • Verify that each resident has benefit days available in the HIPAA Eligibility Transaction System.
  • Verify the admit date on the UB-04 aligns with the date in the manual census log.
  • Verify covered service dates listed on the UB-04 align with those in the Medicare and manual census logs.
  • Verify that a resident’s financial file contains a signed and completed Medicare Secondary Payer form whenever applicable.


Business office manager and MDS coordinator

  • Verify that ADLs are correct and are supported by documentation. Confirm that staff have coded all other contributory items (e.g., mood, IVs).
  • Verify that ARDs on each MDS align with the occurrence dates found at form locators (FL) 31?34 on the UB-04.
  • Verify that the RUG level listed on each MDS aligns with that found at FL 44 on the UB-04.
  • Verify that the assessment type for each MDS aligns with the modifier found at FL 44 on the UB-04.
  • Verify that the number of accommodation units listed on the UB-04 aligns with the assessment type for each MDS. Verify that the total number of accommodation units aligns with corresponding covered service dates.


Facility rehab director, MDS coordinator, and business office manager

  • Verify that physical therapy minutes listed on the daily treatment grid align with those noted in the service log. Align the days and minutes documented in the MDS with those on the treatment grid. Align the number of units billed on the UB-04 with those in the service log.
  • Verify that each principal diagnosis is accurate, that all secondary diagnoses support skilled care, and that every ICD-9 code corresponds to an appropriate diagnosis.
  • Verify that occupational therapy minutes recorded on the daily treatment grid align with those in the service log. Align the days and minutes in the MDS with those on the treatment grid. Align the number of units billed on the UB-04 with those in the service log.
  • Verify that speech therapy minutes listed on the daily treatment grid align with those noted in the service log. Align the days and minutes in the MDS with those on the treatment grid. Align the number of units billed on the UB-04 with those in the service log.


DON and medical records personnel

  • Verify each resident’s need for Medicare skilled intervention by reviewing supporting clinical documentation that corresponds with the dates of service listed in the manual census log.
  • Verify that each (re)certification form has been completed and signed by the appropriate physician.
  • Verify that each physician order has been obtained and implemented.
  • Verify that each chart reflects appropriate charting guidelines. Confirm that charting has been completed at least once in every 24-hour period, relates to skilled service provided, and supports therapy.


Facility rehab director

  • Verify that physician orders include rehabilitation.
  • Verify that each evaluation notes the prior level of function.
  • Verify that clinical documentation contains a progress note establishing the need for continued skilled intervention.



  • Chair the triple-check meeting (detailed below), and ensure that the entire process is completed by appropriate staff each month before Medicare claims are submitted. Participation in the triple check will allow the administrator to monitor the effectiveness of key operational processes carried out by the facility’s ­interdisciplinary team (IDT) on an ongoing basis.

Triple-check meeting and audit tool

Each of the SNF’s triple-check participants should complete their respective duties prior to the Medicare triple-check meeting, which will be held monthly before the SNF bills for a given batch of services. In other words, the meeting is not an occasion for staff to complete their initial claim component(s). Instead, it’s a chance for IDT members to cross-check the work of their colleagues by verifying the accuracy of claim items that others have completed, thereby ensuring each element has been studied by multiple sets of eyes.

The triple-check meeting will also serve as the platform for the SNF’s business office manager to document the completion of each integral item on a billing claim using the triple-check audit tool, an internal checklist-type document that will be included in every month-end closing report.

Using this audit tool, the manager will denote items verified as correct during the triple-check meeting with an "X." He or she will mark items identified as incorrect with an "O" and, in the remarks section of the document, record the steps the team will take to obtain the correct information. Items initially found to be incorrect but rectified during the meeting should still be marked with an "O" to better track any practice patterns that could lead to billing slipups and inform future training activities.

The business office manager will call for any claim found to have errors during the triple-check meeting to be put on hold until it is amended. Once staff have made necessary revisions, the manager will indicate these correction(s) and the corresponding date(s) in the remarks section of the audit tool. He or she will then contact a corporate entity to review the changes and ultimately grant approval to submit the claim. – Billing Alert for Long-Term Care

New Hampshire BCBS Begins Participating with Medicare Part C & D

Medicare is a social health insurance backed and funded by the US federal government for senior citizens and for younger people with disabilities. Originally, beneficiaries of Medicare are provided with funding by the government itself, but with the inclusion of Medicare’s Part C, people can now opt to be covered through a network plan.

While third-party health insurance agencies like the New Hampshire Blue Cross and Blue Shield Anthem exist for beneficiaries opting for Medicare’s Part C and D, why would anyone want to choose paying more for something the government offers at a lesser price?

Medical Billing and Coding Process:

Anyone who has ever been hospitalized and has filed a claim for Medicare or Medicaid services should know how troublesome it can be. As wonderful and beneficial these social health insurance coverage can be, the process of them actually being wonderful and beneficial could take from a few days to a few months, depending on the nature of the claim. Imagine having to go through illness and disease, and processing an insurance claim at the same time.

Granted, health insurance like Medicare cannot help it when certain claims take too long to be processed. The reason for this is because as a government-funded and backed program, it caters to a whole multitude of people who essentially file claims at the same time. Imagine the staggering amount of paper and electronic forms that get submitted to Medicare carrier offices daily, and the reason for the delay seems clear.

Faster Processing with the New Hampshire Blue Cross and Blue Shield:

Fortunately, third-party insurance companies like Anthem can process these claims faster than if a beneficiary were to file a claim to the government or original Medicare program. This is because third-party agencies will get a substantially smaller bulk of claims as not all qualified beneficiaries opt to choose a third-party health insurance.

Furthermore, agencies like the New Hampshire Blue Cross and Blue Shield have affiliated pharmacies and physicians who all provide Medicare and Medicaid coverage. Should their beneficiary member seek treatment or prescribed medications from their affiliates, the process of medical billing and coding gets easier, as the interaction between the medical provider and the insurance agency is faster than it would be if the medical provider were to interact with a government-issued carrier.

For medical providers, opting to be affiliated with a third-party insurance agency can also prove to be more beneficial, especially when it comes to the process of coding medical bills. Medical bills can be so confusing that there are separate Medical biller to do the job. For a physician filing a medical bill under the government-centered Medicare, he or she will most probably complete the taxing medical coding and billing process. If he or she is affiliated with a third-party agency, he or she might not have to, as the agency will probably have a Medical biller on staff.

Though it might be true that going for a third-party option for Medicare and Medicaid will be more expensive, it can provide faster, smoother, and better handling with the troublesome coding, filing, and processing of medical bills.

Click Here to visit the New Hampshire BCBS website for more information.

Medical Billing Services » Medical Billing Blog

View provider enrollment as a critical part of your RCM

Provider enrollment with payers is crucial, as it ensures proper reimbursement for services rendered, according to Patrick Doyle, senior vice president of Newport Credentialing Solutions.

Mr. Doyle shared the following tip with Becker’s Hospital Review: “To ensure every collectible dollar is received, provider enrollment must become an integral part of the revenue cycle process. Best practices should include regular payer audits to validate provider participation status, rigorous payer application follow up, monitoring of licenses and expiring documents, Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare re-attestations and re-enrollments. Furthermore, understand your at-risk revenue against your open enrollments. These are charges billed by providers when their enrollment status is in-process. In-process enrollments for payers with the highest at-risk revenue should be managed with the highest priority.”…


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So Many Books, So Little Time- Part 2

ICD-9-CM Has Procedure Codes?
In part two of my blog series about coding systems, I’d like to present ICD-9-CM, Volume 3. If you’ve taken classes that are preparing you to take the CPC exam, it might be news to you that ICD-9-CM has three volumes. Or procedure codes. So that’s it: volume 3 of ICD-9-CM is procedure codes. 

Hospitals Use It
In part one of this series, I mentioned that HIPAA defines which code sets are used for each health care setting. Volume 3 ICD-9-CM codes are only mandated for hospital inpatient claims. They are a major factor in the determining DRG assignments, which drive hospital inpatient payments. 
Some hospitals also assign ICD-9-CM volume 3 codes for hospital outpatients as well. This is solely for data collection purposes but the codes get “scrubbed” off the outpatient bill and don’t go to the insurance company. ICD-9-CM codes may be used to analyze volume of a particular type of procedure performed either as inpatient or outpatient. For example, most appendectomies are performed as outpatients, but if there are complications, a patient may need to be admitted as an inpatient. Hospitals often pull procedure volume for physician credentialing or planning purposes (e.g., to determine if a new specialty unit or more operating rooms are needed).  As a coding manager, which was a long time ago, I wrote reports that pulled data based solely on ICD-9 codes. We didn’t use CPT codes to pull data at all at that time. 
Why You May Have Never Heard of It
If you’ve never heard of volume 3 codes in school, then it’s likely that you are taking a coding course for physician coding and billing. Physicians don’t use volume 3 of ICD-9. But as mentioned above, hospital coders are using it and if a hospital requires its coders to assign ICD-9 codes on outpatients, they are coding procedures using both ICD-9 and CPT procedure codes. That isn’t as complex as it sounds because most hospitals use encoder software that has a crosswalk between the two code sets. Unfortunately, any time you try to map from one code set to another, there can be errors. If they were easily translatable, we wouldn’t need two code sets!

Here’s another critical tip: if you are buying ICD-9-CM code books, it can be super confusing because there are various publishers and lots of code books with different-yet-similar titles.  If you purchase an ICD-9-CM code book for physicians, it will have only volumes 1 and 2.  If you buy ICD-9-CM for hospitals, you get all three volumes, or the complete ICD-9-CM code set.

What the Codes Look Like
The code format of volume 3 ICD-9-CM codes is different from other code sets with two numeric digits followed by a decimal point and then one or two more numeric digits. The code category ranges are 00-99. It’s the most straightforward of all of the HIPAA code sets. 
Some examples of volume 3 codes are:

  • 47.0, Appendectomy
  • 36.97, Insertion of drug-eluting coronary artery stent(s)
Commentary on ICD-9 Volume 3 and Argument for ICD-10
If you weren’t trained on ICD-9-CM procedure codes, let me tell you, you aren’t missing much. It is the least robust of all of the coding systems. There just simply aren’t enough three to four-digit codes to keep up with rapidly evolving healthcare technology. We have run out of available codes. This is my biggest argument for ICD-10 implementation. I hate to say that we can live without a diagnosis code update, but in comparison to procedures, the need isn’t as great. We absolutely need a new procedural coding system for ICD in order to keep up with emerging technologies. Plus – and this drives the OCD coder in me crazy – there are hernia repair codes in the eye procedure chapter because it’s the only chapter with available codes!  
If you were trained in CPT first and have to learn ICD-9 volume 3 codes, you may find it very difficult, but only because you are trying to find codes as specific as CPT. You will be disappointed because ICD-9 codes aren’t that specific. While there are appendectomy codes in CPT for open and laparoscopic approaches, ICD-9 appendectomy codes don’t differentiate between open and scope procedures. 
Who Needs to Learn it?
If you’re planning to take a certification exam, here are the certifications that have traditionally tested on volume 3 ICD-9-CM codes, but keep an eye on test details for the testing switch over to ICD-10:

  • CCA (Certified Coding Associate) from AHIMA
  • CCS (Certified Coding Specialist) from AHIMA
  • CIC (Certified Inpatient Coder) from AAPC (new)
The COC (Certified Outpatient Coder), formerly called the CPC-H (Certified Professional Coder Hospital-based) does not focus at all on ICD-9 volume 3 codes. It does focus on hospital-related CPT codes and, of course ICD-9 diagnosis codes because we all use that. 

The bottom line on volume 3 codes, in my opinion, is that it is a coding system with a limited shelf life that isn’t worth learning at this point in the game if we really move forward with ICD-10-CM/PCS in October (or unless you are planning to take one of the above-mentioned certification exams before ICD-10 is implemented).  There are enough existing coders to focus on the ICD-9 back work that will be involved after ICD-10 implementation and since this code set is only required for hospitals, it affects a pretty small population of coders overall.  But hey, at least you now know what it is and can have an intelligent conversation about it. 
Next up: Level I of HCPCS (AKA CPT)…

Coder Coach

So Many Books, So Little Time – Part 3

Yes, it’s true.  There are so many books and so little time, I haven’t even had time to blog for the last two weeks because I had my nose in two of them.  Thank God for smartphones and long waits at the car wash, or who knows how much longer it would been before I posted again!

In my first post of this series, I gave one of my favorite quotes: “ICD is from Mars, HCPCS is from Venus.”  So let’s move on to Venus for a bit.  Don’t worry, we’ll be back to Mars, but I like to talk about the present before I talk about the future (ICD-10), so let’s get on with it.  I apologize for the length of this post, but I have a lot to say today!

Three Levels of HCPCS
The Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) has three different levels and just to make things more interesting, Level I is not usually called HCPCS, it’s called CPT.  The Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) was developed and is maintained by the American Medical Association (AMA).

By Physicians for Physicians
What makes CPT so unique is that it is the only coding system in the HIPAA-approved code sets that is developed by physicians for physicians.  The codes you see in the CPT code book are the result of various medical and surgical societies coming together with the AMA to decide which procedures deserve their very own CPT codes.  Every year at the AMA’s CPT Symposium, coders from around the country gather in Chicago to listen to these physicians present the coding updates for the coming year.  It’s an expensive but valuable conference that I think every coder should experience at least once.  

CPT codes are primarily used by physicians to report procedures and services performed in every possible setting where a physician – or qualified health practitioner – may see  a patient: his office, the hospital, a clinic, a nursing home, etc. But it doesn’t stop there.  CPT is also used to report hospital outpatient procedures. Of course, since there are still a lot of procedures that are performed solely as inpatient, hospital coders use a small number of CPT codes in comparison to pro-fee (physician) coders. 

Three within Three

So now that we know that CPT is one of three levels of HCPCS, let’s delve a little deeper into this major code set. CPT has three categories of codes and this is still a pretty new concept for me because when I was learning, there were no categories, just CPT codes. 

Category I Codes
Category I codes are the original CPT codes they’re what I like to call “grown-up” CPT codes. In order to get a grown-up CPT code, a procedure has to meet some pretty stringent criteria: 

  • The procedure must have FDA approval
  • The procedure must be commonly performed by practitioners nationwide
  • The procedure must have proven efficacy
Once these criteria are met, a five-digit numeric code is assigned to the procedure and unlike ICD (different planet, remember?), these codes do not have decimal points. The codes are arranged in sections by type of procedure or service:

  • Evaluation and Management (E/M) (codes beginning with 9)
  • Anesthesia (codes beginning with 0)
  • Surgery (codes beginning with 1-6)
  • Radiology (codes beginning with 7)
  • Pathology and Laboratory
  • Medicine (the rest of the codes beginning with 9)
The Surgery codes are divided by specialty, for example, the cardiovascular codes begin with 3 and neuro codes begin with 6. After coding for a while, you should be able to look at a CPT code and have a general idea of what it is. A common newbie mistake is to look for the E/M codes in the back of the book. After all, they begin with 9!  But remember that CPT is a coding system that was developed by physicians for physicians and since physicians use E/M codes more than any others, they are in the front of the book for quick reference. 

Here are a few examples of Category I CPT codes:

  • 99283, Emergency department visit for the evaluation and management of a patient, which requires these 3 key components: An expanded problem focused history; An expanded problem focused examination; and Medical decision making of moderate complexity
  • 12002, Simple repair of superficial wounds of scalp, neck, axillae, external genitalia, trunk and/or extremities; 2.6cm to 7.5cm
  • 75625, Aortography, abdominal, by serialography, radiological supervision and interpretation 
Category II CPT Codes
Category II CPT codes are located behind the Category I CPT codes in the book. These are the only CPT codes that are optional. They are used by physicians for tracking performance measures. The purpose of these codes is to decrease administrative burden on providers while collecting information on the quality of patient care. Category II codes are five-digit alphanumeric codes that end in “F.”  Here are some examples:

  • 1040F, DSM-5 criteria for major depressive disorder documented at the initial evaluation (MDD, MDD ADOL)1
  • 3775F, Adenoma(s) or other neoplasm detected during screening colonoscopy (SCADR)12
Category II CPT codes are implemented throughout the year and may be implemented before they actually appear in the CPT book.  Code updates can be accessed on the AMA’s website

Category III CPT Codes
Category III CPT codes, or “baby codes,” as I like to call them, are for emerging technologies that do not meet the criteria of a grown-up Category I CPT code. The Category III codes are found behind the Category II codes in the CPT book. For procedures that are not commonly performed, lack FDA-approval, or don’t yet have proven efficacy, Category III codes are assigned. These are temporary codes for a period of 5 years. It has become common practice to see Category III codes reach Category I status with each annual update. For 2015, one of those procedures that was moved was transcatheter mitral valve repair with a prosthesis. The MitraClip uses this relatively new technology to treat mitral regurgitation and it received FDA approval in 2013. 

These are five-digit alphanumeric codes that end in “T.” The codes are added throughout the year and may be implemented before they are published in the CPT book. Here are some examples of some Category III codes:

  • 0387T, Transcatheter insertion or replacement of permanent lead less pacemaker, ventricular
  • 0274T, Percutaneous laminotomy/laminectomy (intralaminar approach) for decompression of neural elements, (with or without ligamentous resection, discectomy, facetectomy and/or foraminotomy) any method under indirect image guidance (eg, fluoroscopic, CT), with or without the use of an endoscope, single or multiple levels, unilateral or bilateral; cervical or thoracic
Updates to Category III codes can also be found on the AMA’s website throughout the year.  

Staying Updated
Back in the day, it was important just to make sure that you had the most recent year’s CPT book to ensure you were using valid codes. However, with the Internet, now it’s also important to monitor the CPT updates and errata on a regular basis since changes are made throughout the calendar year. I find it easiest to put a reminder on my calendar the first of each month to check the AMA’s website for updates to the errata, which is a list of corrected errors in the CPT code book, as well as changes in Category III codes. Since I don’t use Category II codes, I forego that update, but if you are coding them, be sure to look for those updates too. 

By the way, the errata is on the list of approved materials for the AAPC exams. The year I took the CIRCC exam (Certified Interventional Radiology and Cardiology Coder), there were a lot of errors in the electrophysiology code notes and the errata was something I really needed.  Be sure to check it out!

HCPCS codes have a concept specific to HCPCS codes only: modifiers. Think of modifiers like moons that are specific to a planet (and please forget for a moment that Venus doesn’t have any moons!). Modifiers apply to HCPCS codes only, not ICD-9-CM codes. They are added to HCPCS codes to provide additional information, such as a bilateral procedure or an unusual service or to indicate that a procedure was discontinued. CPT modifiers are two numeric digits that are appended to a HCPCS code with a dash (e.g., 75710-59). 

All CPT Coders are not Created Equal
The people who assign CPT codes are just as complex as the coding system. Since hospital coders code only a subset of CPT codes, they don’t have the same skill set that a pro-fee coder has. Remember that hospital inpatient coders use volume 3 of ICD-9-CM to code procedures. Hospital outpatient coders assign CPT codes for procedures that are found in the outpatient setting. So while the pro-fee coder coding for the cardiologist will code everything from a clinic visit in the physician’s office to an angioplasty in the hospital cardiac cath lab to a full blown coronary bypass in the hospital’s OR (all using CPT, of course), the outpatient hospital coder would only use CPT to code the angioplasty. Hospitals don’t follow conventional E/M rules and coronary bypass is an inpatient procedure that gets coded using ICD-9.   In addition, many of the modifiers used by hospitals are different than those used by physicians. 

These differences are one of the reasons it’s so difficult to make the crossover from hospital to pro-fee coding and vice versa. I personally hate E/M coding but I know people who love it. So if you find that one area of coding is not really your cup of tea, fear not!  You may find another area very rewarding. 

I also really can’t talk about CPT without bringing up a little tiny thing from the hospital side called a charge description master (CDM), or as it’s more commonly called, the charge master.  It’s as masterful as it sounds: a line-item listing of everything a hospital department charges for.  Each line item has a description of the charge, charge amount, and sometimes a CPT code.  One of the most difficult transitions I see in pro-fee coders crossing over to the hospital side is not understanding that the coder doesn’t code everything.  There are many codes that are assigned automatically by the charge master when a charge is applied to the bill.  This is the case when the CPT code doesn’t require a lot of subjective reasoning (e.g.,  lab test or x-ray).  For those procedures and services, such as operative procedures, that require subjective reasoning, a real-live coder will assign the code.  It may sound counter intuitive, but this actually increases the amount of coding-related jobs in a hospital.  The charge master analyst requires coding knowledge as he/she works with hospital departments to set up charges, research appropriate CPT codes for the procedure or service, and determine if it will be hard coded (by the charge master) or soft coded (by a person in coding).  

CPT Made (Too?) Simple
This posting really oversimplifies the CPT code set (that’s right, it gets more complex!), but it’s a start if you’re still finding your way in the coding field.  I have a love-hate relationship with CPT because I find it both challenging (love!) but also frustrating when I hear conflicting coding advice between CMS, the AMA, and medical/surgical societies (hate!).  If you find that you love all aspects of CPT, then you can have a very lucrative career in either the pro-fee or facility coding arenas.

Stay tuned to this series…  Next up is HCPCS Level II.

Coder Coach

So Many Books, So Little Time – Part 1

What’s Your Idea of a Best Seller?
Every once in a while I page through a magazine taking keen interest in the best seller and “must read” book lists that everyone is talking about.  I usually tear out the pages for books that are interesting so I can download them later.  And then I rarely read them.  Or it takes me literally months to finish a book.  I love to read, but frankly, after a day of reading code books, and spending a lot of time writing, I just don’t have the eye or mental energy to crack a book for fun.

My idea of a best seller is a string of code books that I use every day.  Don’t worry though, I find other ways to have fun that have nothing to do with coding!

The last time I moved, I had lots of friends helping me lug boxes and it didn’t take long for them to zone in on the heaviest ones: they were labeled “code books.”  I have code books for various coding systems going back several years and yes, they are heavy.  And it’s hard to explain to the layman why I need so many books in such an electronic age.  I’ve found it can also be challenging to explain the different code sets to novice coders.  But alas, I am going to give it a try in a series of blog posts because you may not be exposed to all coding systems in coding school, but depending on the setting you work in, you may find you have to become familiar with something new.

I Don’t Hate Encoders
Let’s get one thing out of the way first, though.  I have no issues with computers or encoders.  In fact, I use a computer for almost everything and, like so many people, I am pretty addicted to my iPhone and iPad.  But as a coding trainer, I learned by the book and I teach by the book and will always default to the book when I have a question.  Encoders are only useful when the user understands the logic behind the program and that logic is based on the book.

ICD is from Mars, HCPCS is from Venus
In healthcare, we deal with two major planets of coding systems: the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the Health Care Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS).  And as if that wasn’t enough, those coding systems are divided into further classifications with different uses. Coding for a physician practice?  Then you’d better brush up on different parts of the coding spectrum than what you’d see in a hospital. Coding outpatient services for a hospital? Then you need to know something different than what you would need to know if you were coding hospital inpatient services.  Want to know how to code everything?  Then it’s time to become familiar with your new best seller list.  This post will start with the basic coding system that everyone uses.

ICD-9-CM Volumes 1 and 2: Everyone Does it 

You probably aren’t surprised to hear that the government determines which codes we use in the U.S.  But you may be surprised to hear that the law that defines those coding systems is a little law called HIPAA. Yes, the same law that addresses privacy and security of medical information also tells us which codes we must use to report healthcare services.  This is why some code books boldly state on the cover that they support HIPAA compliance.  In order to make health information portable and comparable,the Healthcare Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) makes sure we’re all speaking a common language, expressed in codes, before we exchange data electronically. The privacy and security provisions are simply byproducts of making sure health care data can be shared electronically. 

Every health care case, regardless of provider and setting, has one code set in common: ICD diagnosis codes. This coding system was developed by who?  That’s right – it was developed by WHO: the World Health Organization. Here in the U.S. we currently use an adaptation of WHO’s ICD, which is currently the ninth version. We call the U.S. version a clinical modification. And thus, we have ICD-9-CM: the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision, Clinical Modification.

ICD-9-CM has three volumes. The first two volumes include the diagnosis codes.  This includes the tabular (Volume 1) and index (Volume 2). I’ll address volume 3 in part 2 of this series. Bottom line here: every HIPAA-covered entity, which includes hospitals and physicians (and excludes workers’ compensation and car insurers) utilizes ICD-9-CM codes to report diagnoses on a claim.

ICD-9-CM codes have 3-5 digits with a decimal point after the first three digits. All codes are numeric except for V codes, which start with a V and then have two numeric digits and may have up to two more digits after the decimal point; and E codes, which start with an E and have three numeric digits and may have an additional digit after a decimal point. E and V codes are actually “supplementary” codes that are not included in the main part of the ICD-9-CM volumes 1 and 2 code set.

Here are some examples of ICD-9-CM codes:

  • 486, Pneumonia, organism unspecified
  • 401.9, Essential hypertension, unspecified
  • 250.00, Diabetes mellitus without mention of complication, Type II or unspecified type, not stated as uncontrolled

Examples of supplementary codes:

  • V08, Asymptomatic HIV infection status
  • V27.0, Outcome of delivery, single liveborn
  • V76.51, Screening for malignant neoplasm of colon
  • E961, Assault by corrosive or caustic substance, except poisoning
  • E885.3, Fall from skis
Regardless of who you plan to code for, you will be using ICD-9-CM diagnosis codes for billing.  As such, this is likely the first coding system you learn.  
You may notice in my picture that my most recent ICD-9-CM code book is from 2012.  That’s because that was the last year that we had updates to the coding system.  ICD-9-CM is under a permanent code freeze as we optimistically await ICD-10 implementation.  Don’t worry, I will address ICD-10 in future posts.  For now, you are safe using an ICD-9-CM code book from 2012 or newer, but I wouldn’t waste money on a new book if (heaven forbid), ICD-10-CM is not implemented this year.  ICD-9-CM remains forever frozen and is no longer being maintained.  If you want to bone up on ICD-9-CM coding guidelines, they are printed in the front of your code book.  Or you can do what I do and download the PDF document so you can easily search the document for something specific.  Here is a link to the last version of the ICD-9-CM Official Guidelines for Coding and Reporting.  
Next up: ICD-9-CM Volume 3…

Coder Coach

How to Choose a Radiology Revenue Cycle Management Vendor – Part 1

When a major hospital-based radiology practice realized that their outpatient volume had dropped suddenly, their Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) company stepped up to quickly diagnose the problem. Using their analytic database, they produced a focused referring doctor report that revealed significant outpatient service volume declines concentrated among a handful of providers, one of which had decreased by 60%.  It’s this kind of responsiveness that sets a true RCM partner apart from the average vendor.

Medical Billing and Coding Blog