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Appropriate Use Criteria is Coming Soon

Published on 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A recent story by National Public Radio (NPR) discussed the delay in the implementation of the law requiring physicians to consult clinical guidelines before ordering certain imaging tests. The story notes that critics believe the delay has resulted in unnecessary costs and radiation exposure. I am not agreeing or disagreeing with any of the concerns raised by the story, but I want to point out a few things I know based on my understanding of the new requirements and my experience in healthcare. First, not all physicians order unnecessary tests. The article quotes studies that have found widespread overuse, including one study that reported 26% of the CTs and MRIs they reviewed were inappropriate. However, this was at a large academic medical center, so hopefully most physicians use their training to appropriately order advanced imaging exams.

A fallacy in the story in my opinion is how easy the new process will be – “4 clicks on the computer – or less than a minute.” I am skeptical that the ordering physician’s process will be that easy and there are numerous requirements on the back end, i.e. the performing entity and the interpreting professional claim requirements. Beginning July 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019, providers could voluntarily participate in the program. January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020 is the Educational and Operations Testing Period in which providers are encouraged to participate, but claims will not be denied. These voluntary and testing periods are beneficial to providers to work out the kinks in what is an anything-but-simple process.

On July 26, 2019, CMS released a transmittal that details the requirements for the Testing Period in 2020. The basic premise of the program - Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC) for Advanced Diagnostic Imaging is:

Step One – When an advanced imaging service is ordered for a Medicare beneficiary, the ordering professional must consult a qualified Clinical Decision Support Mechanism (CDSM), an interactive, electronic tool that assists practitioners in making the most appropriate treatment decision for a patient’s specific clinical condition. The CDSM will provide the ordering professional with a determination of whether the order adheres to AUC, does not adhere to AUC, or if there is no AUC applicable (for example, no AUC is available to address the patient’s clinical condition).

Step Two – The ordering physician must communicate the status and outcome of use of the CDSM to the furnishing entity and physician.

Step Three – The furnishing providers and practitioners must report on their Medicare claim, modifiers describing the CDSM status and decision, if applicable, and when appropriate, a HCPCS indicating which CDSM was used.

The AUC program applies to:

  • Advance imaging services such as computed tomography (CT), Positron emission tomography (PET), Nuclear medicine (NM), and Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The specific CPT/HCPCS codes affected are listed in the transmittal.
  • The following settings:
  • Physician offices
  • Hospital outpatient departments (including emergency departments)
  • Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASCs)
  • Independent diagnostic testing facilities
  • Services paid under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS), the Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS), or the Ambulatory Surgical Center (ASC) fee schedule

CMS does allow exceptions to participation in the program for ordering professionals with a significant hardship (such as limited access to the internet, etc.), patients with an emergency medical condition, and inpatients paid under Medicare Part A. It is confusing to me why applicable settings include hospital emergency departments when patients with an emergency medical condition are exempt. I have submitted a question to CMS for clarification regarding this and will share through the Wednesday@One newsletter any information I receive.

The modifiers to be reported (MA-MH and QQ) describe whether a CDSM was consulted or not and if not, the reason, or if so, the outcome/decision. The modifier is to be appended to the advanced imaging line item code on the claim. If a modifier is reported that indicates a CDSM was consulted (ME, MF or MG), then the claim should additionally contain a G-code (on a separate claim line) to report which qualified CDSM was consulted. These are informational-only G-codes that will not result in any payment, similar to the codes previously required for Functional Limitation Reporting for therapy services. Providers will have to deal with the same issues of submitting a $0 or minimal charge for these codes. The transmittal includes descriptions of all the modifiers and G-codes.

The plan at this time is to fully implement the requirements of AUC effective January 1, 2021. Upon full implementation, claims for the affected imaging services will be denied if they do not contain information regarding the ordering professional’s consultation with CDSM, or exception to such consultation. The ultimate goal of the program is to identify professionals with outlier-ordering patterns and require those practitioners to obtain prior authorizations for these tests. That requirement will likely be several more years down the road.

Just thinking of the processes hospitals and radiologists will have to put into place to make this happen makes my head spin. And that is all after the process the ordering practitioner goes through – (no need to worry about that though as it is only 4 clicks on the computer). Now is the time, during this Testing phase, for hospitals to develop and implement the necessary processes for this program – how will you receive, document, and internally communicate the information from the ordering practitioner; how will the correct modifier get on the claim line item; and how will the appropriate G-code get added to the claim. And still to be worked out is how institutional providers will report line level ordering physician information on the institutional claim since that capability is not currently available.

Sometimes there are good reasons for delaying a well-intentioned idea.

Article Author: Debbie Rubio, BS MT (ASCP)
Debbie Rubio, BS MT (ASCP), was the Manager of Regulatory Affairs and Compliance at Medical Management Plus, Inc. Debbie has over twenty-seven years of experience in healthcare including nine years as the Clinical Compliance Coordinator at a large multi-facility health system. In her current position, Debbie monitors, interprets and communicates current and upcoming regulatory and compliance issues as they relate to specific entities concerning Medicare and other payers.

This material was compiled to share information.  MMP, Inc. is not offering legal advice. Every reasonable effort has been taken to ensure the information is accurate and useful.