CMS delays controversial E/M changes in final rule


After a torrent of criticism from the physician community, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has delayed its proposed collapsing of evaluation and management (E/M) codes into single payments.

Dr. Orly Avitzur

Dr. Orly Avitzur

The agency’s final 2019 Physician Fee Schedule, announced Nov. 1, rescinds a proposal that would have blended payments for new and established patients for office/outpatient E/M levels 2 through 5 into single payments. Instead, the agency will continue to hear perspective on the proposal with plans to collapse E/M code levels 2 through 4 into single payments beginning in 2021, while maintaining level 5.

CMS also pulled back its proposal to apply a multiple procedure payment reduction to E/M visits furnished on the same day as a procedure. Payment rates for the less expensive of the two will be maintained, rather than cut in half as initially proposed.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) expressed appreciation that CMS took feedback from the physician community seriously and that the agency took steps to eliminate some of its proposals.

“The AADA appreciates the effort and willingness of key decision makers at CMS, at HHS, and on Capitol Hill to hear the concerns of dermatologists and other physicians, and to take them into consideration in developing this final rule,” George J. Hruza, MD, president-elect of the AADA said in an interview. “We appreciate that CMS decided against moving forward with the proposal to make aggressive changes to payment associated with modifier 25 – when an office visit and one or more procedures are provided to a patient on the same day. We are also pleased that CMS made the decision to delay its larger proposal to collapse E/M codes for two years to 2021; this delay gives physicians of different perspectives the opportunity to come together, through the RUC/CPT Workgroup, and work toward developing a solution and a path forward in payment reform.”

George J. Hruza, MD

Dr. Hruza noted that the AADA worked closely with the American Medical Association and other medical specialty groups to convey their concerns to CMS about the proposed rule, and that they look forward to working with policymakers on further refinements.

The final rule released is much different than the one proposed, which shows that CMS heeded concerns by physicians and took time to craft a more realistic fee schedule, said Orly Avitzur, MD, chair of the American Academy of Neurology’s Medical Economics and Management Committee. The proposed collapsed E/M levels would have likely led to shorter visit times, negatively impacting the doctor-patient relationship and patient care, she said.

“Overall, the American Academy of Neurology was extremely pleased that CMS made several reversals to the proposed rule that indicated that they really listened to our concerns and tried to address them,” Dr. Avitzur said in an interview. “We are very pleased they are giving us an additional 2 years to help us and other stakeholders to give them feedback about how to refine their decision to collapse levels 2, 3, and 4 codes.”

As part of its final rule, CMS moved forward with several other changes to coding and documentation, including eliminating the need to document the medical necessity of a home visit in lieu of an office visit, and allowing physicians to skip documentation of changes since a prior patient visit when relevant information is already contained in the record.

Additionally, the final rule clarifies that for E/M office/outpatient visits physicians do not need to re-enter information on the patient’s chief complaint and history that has already been entered by ancillary staff or the patient. The physician may just indicate in the medical record that he or she has reviewed and verified the information.


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