Friday, June 20, 2008

Reimburse Doctors For Their Brains

Ancillary services are causing a major problem in accomplishing health care savings. In fact, it is so bad that many physicians look to joint ventures with hospitals and other entities in order to supplement their income with ancillary revenue. Why? Because “cognitive” services for all physician specialties have gone unrecognized and are not reimbursed. Rather, physicians are compensated for the volume of services rendered as well as ancillary services (i.e., MRI, Pet CT, catheterization and other test ordering).

Why is it that physicians are not paid properly to use their brains and to problem solve for their patients? That is what they trained to do. In my opinion, this is backwards and it’s costing the system a lot of money. Included under the not reimbursed “cognitive services” umbrella are: chronic disease care management, multidisciplinary coordination with other physicians relative to patient care, participation in tumor board conference and cancer committee, pain management while the physician is not present, phone calls related to patient care, pharmacy management, education, etc. While these activities directly relate to patient care and management, they are not currently billable. We think this is wrong.

Specialists are often billing at the same rate as primary care physicians when they should be able to bill a Level IV or Level V for the complex management of their patients. CMS previously tested a model eliminating profits from ancillary services when the Congress passed a bill that reduced ancillary drug payments – from AWP methodology to ASP – then added physician value and extra overhead cost to the new oncology codes. These were adopted by the AMA in 2005. CMS declared success in saving money by this action; however, with the implementation, CMS unfortunately did not add enough physician cognitive value in the new codes. Additionally, CMS continues to audit physicians who document and bill the highest level of visit codes.

We believe the solution to the issue relative to cognitive services is simple. The answer lies with the development of 3 new specific codes (levels VI, VII, VIII) that do not require face-to-face contact to recognize the cognitive services for the care and management of chronically ill patients. These codes could be utilized not only by medical oncologists and hematologists, but by physicians in all specialties when treating their patients. This solution would provide a remedy benefitting the entire health care system and would enable patients to get the quality care they deserve.

Neltner Billing has been trying to solve the cognitive services problem for several years now. We previously proposed treatment planning codes (specific to medical oncology/hematology) to the American Medical Association as a solution, and we were denied. The AMA either needs to embrace those treatment planning codes or adopt the higher level codes mentioned above that all medical specialties can utilize.

We are preparing a white paper to distribute to key congressional representatives and various health care organizations in the next 30 days in order to get our opinion heard on this and other key issues. We really believe that making some fairly basic changes could save the entire health care system money.

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