Coding Changes for 2017

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Practice Points

  • The conversion factor has increased more than 0.2%, which means you will be paid a bit more this year.
  • Review Current Procedural Terminology codes carefully for pain control or moderate sedation as well as nail surgery and slide consultation.
  • Reflectance confocal microscopy now has relative value units assigned by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.



All physicians will see changes in reimbursement in 2017. A new president with a new agenda makes for an interesting time ahead for health care in the United States. However, in this time of flux, there is one constant: the Final Rule, an informal term for the annual update on how the Medicare system will function and how much you will get paid for what you do.1 The document is 393 pages and outlines what is new in the Medicare system, with lots of supplements giving granular details about physician work, overhead, and supply and labor costs. In this column, I have taken the liberty of dissecting the Final Rule for you and to bring attention to its high and low points for dermatologists.

Changes in Relative Value Units

The conversion factor has gone up, meaning you will be paid a bit more this year for what you do; it is not enough to account for inflation or the increasing cost of unfunded mandates, but it is better than nothing. Although the conversion factor was $35.8043 in 2016, it increased by more than 0.2% on January 1, 2017, to $35.8887.1 How is this conversion factor calculated? We go up 0.5% due to MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act), down 0.013% due to budget neutrality, down 0.07% due to multiple procedure payment reduction changes, and down another 0.18% due to the misvalued code target.1 The misvalued code target is related to targets established by statute for 2016 to 2018 and payment rates are reduced across the board if they are not met.

If payments suffer from reductions in work value, they may not happen all at once. If the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reduce total relative value units (RVUs) by more than 20%, reductions will take place over at least 2 years with a single year drop maximum of 19%.1 Unfortunately, such limits do not apply to revised codes, which can take as big a hit as the CMS cares to make.

Changes to Global Periods

In 2015, we learned that 10- and 90-day global periods would be eliminated in 2017 and 2018, respectively, with great concern on the part of the government about the number and level of evaluation and management services embedded in these codes. The implementation of global policy elimination was prohibited by MACRA and the CMS was required to develop and implement a process to gather data on services furnished in the global period from a representative sample of physicians, which they will use to value surgical services beginningin 2019.1 The CMS decided to capture this data with a new set of time-based G codes (which would be onerous for all practicing physicians), not just the unlucky folks who were to be the sample mandated under MACRA.2 During the comment period, it became obvious to the CMS that this concept was flawed for many reasons and it decided to hold a town hall meeting at the CMS headquarters on August 25, 2016, on data collection on resources used in furnishing global services in which 90 minutes of live testimony in the morning was followed by another 90 minutes by telephone in the afternoon.3 This meeting, which I attended, resulted in the CMS changing the all-practitioner reporting program to a specified sample with others allowed to opt in. Practitioners in groups of less than 10 are exempt, and only physicians in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, and Rhode Island must capture data beginning in July 2017.1 These data only have to be captured on codes that are used by more than 100 practitioners and are furnished at least 10,000 times or have allowed charges of greater than $10,000,000 annually. If you are lucky enough to live in one of the testing states, you must start on July 1 but can start before July 1 if you wish. Practitioners in smaller practices or in other geographic areas are encouraged to report data if feasible but are not required to do so. Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code 99024 will be used for reporting postoperative services rather than the proposed onerous set of G codes, and reporting will not be required for preoperative visits included in the global package or for services not related to the patient’s visit.

Changes to Chronic Care Management

There are new and modified chronic care management codes that are not of use to you unless you are the primary provider for the patient and you and the patient meet multiple stringent requirements.4 The patient must have multiple illnesses, use multiple medications, be unable to perform activities of daily living, require a caregiver, and/or have repeat admissions or emergency department visits. Typical adult patients who receive complex chronic care management services are treated with 3 or more prescription medications and may be receiving other types of therapeutic interventions (eg, physical therapy, occupational therapy). Typical pediatric patients receive 3 or more therapeutic interventions (eg, medications, nutritional support, respiratory therapy). All patients have 2 or more chronic continuous or episodic health conditions that are expected to last at least 12 months or until the death of the patient and place the patient at serious risk for death, acute exacerbation/decompensation, or functional decline.4


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