Protect Reimbursement 4 Ways as Payers Narrow Payable Diagnosis Codes

For ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs), it’s a “perfect storm” story: the number of Americans with knee osteoarthritis has doubled since the mid-20th century, affecting 19% of those 45 and older, and continues to grow as our population ages. Meanwhile, insurance companies are narrowing payable diagnosis codes for treatment in their drive toward value-based care. Today, surgeons need to prove patients have a very specific diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis before payers will preauthorize surgery, as “knee pain” is no longer an acceptable criterion for approval for many payers.

To help ensure ASCs avoid negative financial consequences of these trends, the experts at Regent Revenue Cycle Management have identified four key steps to protect reimbursement against denied preauthorization and payment when it comes to surgery related to knee osteoarthritis.

  1. Get the Diagnosis Right – As payers narrow the payable diagnosis codes, ASCs need to be aware of payers’ coverage and preauthorization guidelines, ensuring surgeons are aware of and using the acceptable diagnosis codes for each payer to indicate specific diagnoses. Aetna, for example, considers patients with mild-to-moderate osteoarthritis, with knee pain as well as mechanical symptoms, to be candidates for arthroscopic debridement based on medical necessity, but the payer considers the same surgery for persons with osteoarthritis presenting with knee pain only to be experimental. ASCs also should be sure to follow through with claims the physician’s office submits after preapproval so the diagnosis codes match.
  2. Negotiate to Avoid Preauthorization Denial – Since little recourse is possible after a preauthorization is denied, ASCs that include carve-outs for certain diagnosis codes when they negotiate payer contracts are a step ahead. Do this by pulling together evidence-based literature and letters justifying specific procedures and data on their cost and medical necessity to present to the insurance companies during the negotiation. Groups like the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons also provide resources on medical necessity and coverage for certain diagnoses. It is also important to stay current on updates to insurance company coverage, and to update your contracts to avoid losing ground.
  3. Track Processed Claims, Audit Payment Patterns — Especially for orthopedic and spine procedures, many orthopedic and spine codes aren’t clearly defined. Know them well, and keep track of processed claims against each. In addition, regular audits can help detect patterns such as minor errors responsible for denials or underpayment, and prevent similar future issues. Be sure to focus on both diagnosis codes used as well as final payment as you audit. Details matter, so consider having a professional revenue cycle management organization like Regent RCM review your contracts and help with the audit.
  4. Bundled payments – As ASCs experiment with new payment models that are directly tied to diagnosis, such as bundled payments, understanding the codes becomes even more important. Recent studies show 80 percent of payers find bundled payments appealing, and providers are beginning to embrace the new model as well. Make sure to stay apprised of any new changes or requirements that occur within the bundles, and the ASC and affiliated physicians are providing the right documentation and verification for the value-based reimbursement — if the diagnosis code is incorrect, the surgery won’t qualify for the bundled payment and the ASC could lose money.

For additional information on protecting reimbursement in today’s evolving healthcare payment environment, call Erin Petrie, Regent’s Director of RCM at (708) 492-0531 or visit