When I started as a solo practice physician, if someone had told me that someday I would be able to have actual conversations about the business side of the house, I would have told them they were crazy. As a naïve postgraduate, I actually believed that most of practice would be about caring for patients. Tincture of time and a few rides on the revenue cycle roller coaster quickly proved otherwise. (No one likes going bankrupt, which is a real danger for small practices these days).
Knowing other providers have also had this experience, it shouldn’t have been surprising to me that business-related articles on HIStalk have generated quite a bit of feedback. In a recent EPtalk, I talked a bit about the need for office-based physicians to work on maximizing their use of practice management systems as a prelude to maximizing their use of electronic health records.
One reader asks:
When determining the first pass clean claims rate, do you count as ‘unclean’ a claim that (1) doesn’t make it through the EDI/clearinghouse scrubber (rejected), or (2) makes it through the clearinghouse/scrubber but is then denied by insurance (e.g., wrong coding, more medical information needed, etc)? I have seen a clean claims rate calculation as being just those rejected by the scrubbers, but I have also seen it where it includes every claim that wasn’t paid with only one touch.
I have to rely on my anonymous celebrity claims expert Bianca Billinghouse, who responds:
First pass is defined as a clean claim when it makes it through the practice management system’s claims scrubber as well as the clearinghouse. If it doesn’t make it through the clearinghouse, this is what we term a rejection. The office staff typically didn’t run their claim edits and it was caught by the clearinghouse. These count against the practice. If it makes it all the way through to insurance and results in a denial, depending on the reason, then it falls into controllable or not controllable denial. We see this often with eligibility, even though we are attempting to do this upon check-in.
I also got a fair amount of feedback on last week’s Curbside Consult about evaluation of practice management systems and their readiness for 5010. Several readers suggested other organizations as sources for evaluating practice management systems, such as KLAS or AC Group.
Another wrote with an interesting perspective on 5010 compliance, which I thought I’d share:
The new 5010 standard, in the short run, is the same old data repackaged a slightly different way from the 4010 standard. The truth is that if you send your claims via a clearinghouse in the short run, you don’t need to do anything. The clearinghouse and the insurance companies need to be able to exchange data in the 5010 format by January of 2012, and many companies are doing testing now through the end of the year. The reason that a provider doesn’t need to stress about this is the actual new data from the provider — i.e. ICD-10 codes — don’t go into effect until 2013.
Software companies, as you can imagine, use any change as a way to sell an upgrade or new release, and most of my clients are told you must do this or that. Whenever you are told you must do something by a software company, nine times out of ten you probably don’t. If you’re an office that sends all your own claims yourself direct to all the insurance companies, you may need an upgrade by January 2012. If you use a clearinghouse or a billing service, you probably have another year until your software needs to accommodate ICD10 codes. If you’re looking at a $2,000 upgrade vs. paying a clearinghouse $50 per month to take care of things for you, that is your choice.
Considering that my primary ambulatory system is with a vendor that doesn’t charge for upgrades (they’re included in maintenance), I have no skin in the game on upgrading vs. not upgrading as a cost-saving maneuver. Interestingly though, the same day I received that e-mail, I also received my snail mail copy of American Medical News with the headline, “Not electronic-claim compliant? Then expect no payments in 2012.”
The article mentions that 5010 requires submission of nine-digit ZIP codes on claims, which I suppose a clearinghouse with the postal database can “plug” as the claims pass through. It also includes the ability to “distinguish between principal diagnosis, admitting diagnosis, external cause of injury, and patient reason for visit codes” which I can’t imagine a clearinghouse being able to manipulate unless I’m not understanding what that means. (Damn it Jim, I’m a doctor, not a biller!)
However, 5010 is also a precursor to ICD-10. I worry that physicians who think they can delay the upgrades for 5010 adoption will unwittingly delay progress towards adoption of the new coding standard, which is already anticipated to be an extremely difficult transition for physicians.
Of course, another conversation with Bianca was in order:
He’s obviously using the clearinghouse spin, touting that they will take care of everything. Ultimately, it’s still the provider’s responsibility to comply with the mandates. I wouldn’t feel comfortable relying solely on my clearinghouse to map/plug the required loops/segments. He’s right that clearinghouses help in the process, but what will the clearing house do when its clients don’t get their claims paid because the primary payer wants 5010 and the secondary wants 4010 or even paper?
The American Medical News article goes as far as recommending that practices increase cash reserves and consider lines of credit to buffer potential rejections after the switch, which certainly doesn’t do anything to reduce physician anxiety. Personally, I’m extremely thankful that Bianca is looking out for my colleagues and me (no one ever gives the billing / claims / collections folks the credit they deserve). But I still I think I might have to temper my anxiety over ICD-10 with a nice Riesling.