This week CMS released the final physician payment rule for CY 2019. In addition to the changes to the physician fee schedule (slightly higher than the CY 2018 rate), the rule expands payment for telehealth and aligns physician interoperability requirements with hospital requirements and allows more flexibility in the physician quality reporting program. The rule finalizes a consolidated payment rate for evaluation and management (E/M) office and outpatient visit levels 2 through 4, while maintaining the payment rate for level 5 E/M visits. It also reduces payment for new Part B drugs and requires hospital outreach laboratories to begin collecting and reporting private payer payment rates and volumes. Finally, the rule will continue to allow non-excepted off-campus provider-based departments of hospitals to bill for non-excepted services on the institutional claim and will maintain payment for non-excepted services at 40 percent of the outpatient prospective payment system amount for CY 2019.
The Medical Association partnered with the American Medical Association to secure the changes.
Removing Restrictions on E/M Coding
CMS finalized several changes to E/M documentation guideline which were strongly supported by the AMA and other members of the Federation:
- The requirement to document medical necessity of furnishing visits in the home rather than office will be eliminated.
- Physicians will no longer be required to re-record elements of history and physical exam when there is evidence that the information has been reviewed and updated. In addition,
- Physicians must only document that they reviewed and verified information regarding chief complaint and history that is already recorded by ancillary staff or the patient.
- These changes will take effect 1/1/2019.
The Original Proposal Condensing Office Visit Payment Amounts and Documentation Requirements
In the 2019 proposed rule, CMS proposed to implement a single payment rate for level 2 through level 5 office visits and to reduce documentation requirements for this collapsed payment to that of a level 2 CPT visit code. The Agency proposed to continue to use existing CPT structure for office visit codes 99201-99215, though proposed to change CMS guidelines and only enforce certain aspects of the CPT structure by allowing physicians to choose the method of documentation, among the following options:
- 1995 or 1997 Evaluation and Management Guidelines for history, physical exam and medical decision making (current framework for documentation)
- Medical decision making only
- Physician time spent face-to-face with patients
- CMS had also proposed an add-on code to each office visit performed for primary care purposes and an add-on code for specialities with inherently complex E/M visits
- CMS relayed that commenters overwhelmingly opposed the Agency’s proposed payment collapse. CMS will not finalize the proposal for CY 2019.
Other Coding/Payment Proposals Related to E/M
The following policies were also opposed and will not be implemented by CMS:
- Payment reductions by 50 percent for office visits that occur on the same date as procedures (or a physician in the same group practice). The AMA brought attention to the fact that duplicative resources have already been removed from the underlying procedure through the current valuation process.
- In addition, CMS proposed to no longer allow for podiatry to report CPT codes 99201-99215 and instead would use two proposed G-codes for podiatry office visits. As well as a new prolonged service code that would have been implemented to add-on to any office visit lasting more than 30 minutes beyond the office visit (ie, hour long visits in total).
- Condensed practice expense payment for the E/M office visits, by creating a new indirect practice expense category solely for office visits, overriding the current methodology for these services by treating Office E/M as a separate Medicare Designated Specialty. This change would also have resulted in the exclusion of the indirect practice costs for office visits when deriving every other specialty’s indirect practice expense amount for all other services that they perform, which would have resulted in large changes in payment for many specialties (ie a greater than 10 percent payment reduction for chemotherapy services).