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Lab Services CERT Errors Increasing

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Can you sometimes tell by the tone of someone’s voice or the way they drag out the words, that there is a condition to their answer? “Well, nooo…” You just know the conjunction “but” is coming. Medicare generally communicates with providers in writing, but experience tells us there is often a condition to Medicare’s answers.

A few years ago there was a lot of discussion in Medicare billing circles about whether a physician’s signature is required on a laboratory requisition. And in typical Medicare fashion, the answer was a clear, “No…, but…” The “but” being that although the signature of the ordering physician is not required on the requisition, there has to be an order or documentation of intent to order the lab tests that is signed by the physician. This documentation can be located in the physician’s office chart, but needs to be submitted to the Medicare contractor in the case of a medical review of the claim. And the provider being reviewed (i.e. the testing lab), whose payment is at risk, is the one ultimately responsible for submitting the supporting documentation.

With all the reminders of these requirements that circulated back then, surely most hospital-based and independent laboratories understood what was expected. Therefore, I was a bit surprised to see an announcement back in December concerning a significant increase in pathology and laboratory service errors identified by data analysis of the Comprehensive Error Rate Testing (CERT) program findings. In response to the increase in errors, CERT published a document addressing the lab and pathology errors.

CERT identifies insufficient documentation and incorrect coding as the reasons for the significant errors, but the main issue addressed in the publication is missing or incomplete documentation.

“If a physician’s order for a diagnostic test is not included in the medical record, the physician must document the intent to order the laboratory service.” This documentation must state the specific tests the physician is ordering. Simply stating “ordering lab” is not sufficient. Also the documentation of intent must be signed by the physician or there must be a signed physician’s order for the lab tests. A signed order or signed documentation of intent to order must be sent to the Medicare contractor reviewing the record to support the services billed. Without this documentation, the claim will be denied.

“Documentation must support the medical necessity for the services performed.” Per the Medicare Claims Processing Manual, Chapter 16 , section 120.1 – “Diagnoses are required on all claims” and such diagnostic information must be supplied to the performing laboratory by the ordering physician. There are twenty-three National Coverage Determinations (NCDs) for lab services and individual Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) often have Local Coverage Determinations (LCDs) for other lab services. Both the NCDs and LCDs require certain diagnoses to support the medical necessity of the lab tests; additional indications and documentation may also be required by the coverage policies. Two examples of required lab documentation from the CERT document include:

  • Blood Glucose - The ordering physician must include evidence in the patient’s clinical record that an evaluation of history and physical preceded the ordering of glucose testing and that manifestations of abnormal glucose levels were present to warrant the testing.
  • Thyroid Function tests - When thyroid function tests are billed at a greater frequency than the norm (two per year), the ordering physician’s documentation must support the medical necessity of this frequency.

One more requirement – signatures must meet the Medicare signature guidelines as described in the Medicare Program Integrity Manual, Chapter 3, section

In summary, if the CERT contractor reviews your laboratory claims, be sure to:

  1. Respond timely to the CERT medical record request
  2. Providers have 75 days to submit requested records
  3. CERT will accept late documentation
  4. Include all necessary documentation
  5. A signed order or documentation of intent to order labs signed by the ordering physician
  6. Signatures must meet Medicare signature requirements
  7. Documentation to support the medical necessity of the services
  8. Lab results/reports
  9. Appeal unfavorable decisions to your local MAC
  10. Include additional supporting documentation

That “no signature” thing comes with a huge conditional “but”!


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.


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.