Category Archives: Billing & Coding

Sam Collins for HJ Ross

Telehealth – Coding, Documenting and Compliance of Telehealth

Hi, everyone. This is Samuel Collins, your coding and billing expert for acupuncturists. Specifically, the American Acupuncture Council’s Insurance Information Network and Malpractice. Today’s program, as you’re probably aware, is going to be one that’s very important considering the crisis we’re going through right now, and on telemedicine. Is it something appropriate? Is it something we can code? And how do we do it? Well, of course we have to make sure, first of all, that we are getting ourselves together. Because of course our patients are changing, can they come into the office? So without further ado, let’s get to the slides. Let’s make sure we’re understanding what’s going on for telemedicine.

So you’ll see here on this first slide, I’ve got my email address and of course take a look at our website, the American Acupuncture Council Insurance Information Network, which is But here you can see a teleconference call. Now on the left side here you’ll notice this picture, a woman opening her tongue, doctor observing. So what can we do? Well before we get fully there, let’s talk a little bit about making it a little bit light. I’m not always required to see patients online, but when I do, it’s a 99243, that is the code of course for the 30 minute visit online. But it could be for of course the diagnosis of Z03.818, which is the encounter for observation for a suspected exposure to other biological agents to be ruled out, which of course could be COVID-19.

Now again, that’s not something you’re going to be treating for, but of course this is why now many patients can’t come in. So what are the diagnosis for COVID-19? Just to make sure everyone’s aware of the diagnosis under ICD10 is U07.1. And of course if it’s just for observation, Z03.818. Now of course we’re not going to be seeing patients for that, or you won’t be seeing patients for that, but likely for the conditions that you’re already treating for, but they cannot come into the office, maybe they’re in a high risk group. Certainly it’s not something that you have to close your office per se, if there’s a person in acute or severe pain. Certainly you should be helpful to them, but make sure of course you’re using all the safe practices.

That being said, let’s talk about telemedicine. It is a patient initiated service with a physician, or as I underlined here, or other qualified healthcare professional, which would fit an acupuncturist, for the evaluation, assessment and management of the patient. In other words, an ENM code. It’s not intended for the non evaluative electronic communication simply of test results, scheduling of appointments, or communication that doesn’t involve an ENM. In other words, consider it, it’s like an office visit but just done online. You would be doing all the same things of discussion with your patient: history, exam and so forth. So essentially this is an ENM visit, simply in a non-direct face to face manner, but through electronic communication. Basically doing the patient’s history, evaluation, medical decision making, and counseling.

Patients must be under your care and likely under your care for acute or chronic pain, and how to manage without direct treatment. You might have a patient that cannot come in but they’re having a severe episode of back pain. What are we going to do to help them? Well, this is the point. You can do it via the phone or virtual, meaning through your computer or tablet, to make sure to evaluate the patient and give them instructions how to help themselves.

What would this include? Well, here’s an example of a self management of a patient that you all likely do or would do face to face. Talking to the patient about how to rest and reduce strenuous activities; changing their ergonomics and posture; appropriate exercises including Tai Chi, Qi gong, yoga; stress management or meditation; joint protection; weight loss; self massage; self acupressure; maybe the use of hot or cold packs or relieve discomfort. Educate the patient about the causes, what things they can avoid, and then potentially about brief use of supports if necessary in the acute stages to limit motion. In other words, the same recommendations and things you would do face to face without care.

So in other words, simply put, this is a patient you are helping, just doing it online, doing it without physically touching or hands on the patient. So telemedicine, the patient must be an established patient. It can’t not be a new patient, someone you’ve never seen before, but it can be an established patient that has a new condition. So the problem may be new to the provider, but it must be an established patient. And it must be initiated on a HIPAA compliant secure platform, typically. That would be something where you’re going to use obviously some sort of secure platform. But however, due to this recent COVID issue, they have made a mandate that providers may use simple communication through phones or tablets with simple services like Skype or FaceTime. In fact, it was recommended by the centers of Medicaid and Medicare Services yesterday that patients that are of an older age probably should just get their grandchildren or children to come over and then use their phone or tablet for them. So don’t be afraid to initiate in that way as well.

Now what are the codes? Okay. So for online digital evaluation of a patient, which means you’re going to do some type of virtual visit, the first code is 99421, that is online digital evaluation management service for an established patient for up to seven days of cumulative time during a seven day period, for five to 10 minutes. So in other words, it’s the entire time up to a seven day period. So this might be several communications with a patient within seven days, and the time would be cumulative. But it certainly could be just for one, if it’s only one within that time. You’ll notice the codes are relatively simple, in that one is for five to 10 minutes, one is for 11 to 20 minutes, and one is for 21 minutes or more. So simply put, once you get over 21 minutes, then it’s just a 99423, and this would be again, the accumulative time for each patient. And again, it’s online, meaning through some type of virtual platform.

These are patient-initiated services for the assessment and management of the patient. They’re not intended for non-evaluative communication for test results. I want to be clear, it’s not for a patient where you’re calling and saying, “Hey, your test results came back,” but literally just like you would do on a regular visit. The patient had an ENM within the last seven days, these codes cannot be used for that problem. So if you saw a patient yesterday, this part of it would be counted as part of that visit. It’s not till after seven, which I believe we’ll see a lot of this because of the time that’s extending for patients that would’ve had an appointment, this certainly is going to fit, particularly if it’s just initiating here.

So certainly keep in mind if you saw the patient the day before and a phone call the day after, or a virtual visit, that would not count towards this. But for a patient within or after a seven day period, and again it’s cumulative time. If the inquiry is about a new problem, certainly if that’s no problem, and it can be sooner than seven days. So, so long as that is a new condition. And I would question, even though a patient may be initiating right now, they’re dealing with some new issues because they cannot come in. So certainly I think this is going to fit. And we might see a nonissue of that seven day period. The issue here is that it’s simply a visit with the patient that’s done on an online platform to address their concerns of how you may help them.

Obviously you’re not going to be able to do direct treatment, but the things you can do to help them, and maybe it might even be to get them in, and of course if it is to get them in within a 24 hour period again, that wouldn’t count because it goes towards a visit, but certainly for a patient that can’t be seen or a person in a high risk group, obviously that is mandated to stay home.

Now again, to count the times for these codes, start the seven day clock when the physician first performs a persona’ review of the patient’s question. Add the time for the review of the relevant patient records and data interactions or the clinical staff to the problem. So in other words, what this is including is the time you may take to review the records before that phone call starts. Now I would be careful, I would certainly say, don’t tell me you spent a half hour reviewing records, but certainly a few minutes would count. And this would include communication with the patient by digital means that doesn’t fall under another ENM code, meaning it’s not with a phone call. This is going to be the online. It includes decision-making, assessment, management by those in the same group practice as well. So again, if you’re in a group setting, that could work.

What I want to emphasize here though, is that it is simply the doctor doing an ENM. And when I say doctor, I mean the licensed acupuncturist doing an ENM with that patient just simply online. And that means the documentation would fall into the same way. So for the medical record, the guidelines just direct you to keep permanent documentation, either electronic or hard copy. And to make this simple, simply document like you would any other visit, as if the patient were in the office. Make notes, put the time down, obviously, the time you started and ended. You do not need to record the phone call, but you would record the visit in the same manner. So take the same type of copious notes you would as with any other visit.

Now what else can we do besides a virtual visit? Well there’s the telephone evaluation and management service, which certainly could be useful as well. And this is provided by the physician or established acupuncturist to an established patient. And again, I want to make sure that we see that’s established patients for this, not a new patient. Now it could be an established patient you have not seen in six months. And if they’re calling for a problem, then of course you can see them. It’s simply just not for the new patient. Now this services, again not within the previous seven days of the first visit, or the last visit, and it can’t lead to an appointment within 24 hours. So that’s something you’ll see kind of uniquely here for the telephone visit, is that it cannot be the result of the phone call is to come in for treatment. This is literally for the patient to manage at home, not come in within the next 24 hours or next available appointment.

So what are the codes here? 99441 is for five to 10 minutes, 99442 is 11 to 20 minutes, and 99443 is for 21 to 30 minutes of medical discussion. So again, this is going to be that discussion with the patient, essentially, again, an ENM visit where you’re discussing with them the history of the issue, evaluating their outcome, what can they do at home, this is what this is going to be used for.

Now, one thing about these codes though is that you have to document them properly in the sense that I want everyone to note here at the bottom, the place of service is not 11 as you normally would do on a claim. The place of service would be 02, which indicates a telemedicine visit. So again, if the patient’s in the office, it’s 11. If you go to a patient’s home to do a treatment the place of service is 12, but if you’re doing a telemedicine visit, the place of service is 02.

But now one thing I’m sure everyone’s concerned with is, what would be an appropriate charge for these codes? Well, I really can’t give you what your charge should be, because of course everyone’s going to vary as to the location. But what I can help you with is the relative value unit. The relative value unit is the value comparison of one code to the other, or a ratio. So what I put here at the top is the relative value of manual acupuncture, which has a relative value of 1.05. Now for our intents and purposes, let’s just say it’s approximately a value of 01. So now when you look at these other codes, you’ll notice all their RVUs are broken down to 0.43, 0.86 and so forth.

So in a simple term, think of it, it’s a ratio. If you were charging whatever you’re charging for acupuncture, roughly 99421 would be about 40% of that. 99422 would be about 86%, and so on. So again, just think of it as a simple ratio. So by example, if someone were charging probably $70 for manual acupuncture, the relative price for a 99421 would be 40% of that, or about $28. So again, just keep it really simple. We want to make sure, of course, that acupuncturists are available to patients who are managing their chronic pain, who are managing many issues that they otherwise would not get help for. You could be the person that really gives them a good sense of feeling of assuredness that you’re there for them to give them even just stretches, how to use hot packs, maybe it’s even dealing with some of the herbal consult that you’ve had.

What I want to make sure is that we’re doing a good job and continuing to help our patients in this time, and make sure they’re aware that you’re available. There would be nothing wrong with sending something out to your patients to let them know that you are available, potentially in the office for appointments, but also online and it will be covered by insurance. Ultimately, we want to make sure you’re doing well. The American Acupuncture Council is your resource, and I’m going to make sure that anyone that’s listening that’s of course a member of my network, you’re welcome to give me a direct call or email so I can help you with these.

Of course, if you’re not in the network, I apologize for that, but we do offer a service for it. You may want to see that we upcoming seminars that will allow you to, with some help, and the seminars will be virtual as well. But please take a look, we have more information on our website, to go to our Facebook page or to our Instagram account to take a look there. We’re here for you. The American acupuncture council is your partner. Your success is our success, and we’re your partner to make sure your practice continues to thrive even during this time. Next week’s post will be Virginia Duran. And until then, this is Sam Collins, the coding and billing expert for the American Acupuncture Council, and I wish you all well and be safe.

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Sam Collins for HJ Ross

Medicare and Acupuncture 2020 American Acupuncture Council

Hi, everyone. This is Samuel Collins, your coding and billing expert for acupuncture at the American Acupuncture Council, our seminars, our networks, and all that. And I welcome you to another program of To The Point. In fact, let’s do that. Let’s get to the point. My goal, as always, is to make sure to give you information that’s up-to-date, current, and keep your office practice going strongly.

So what’s going on? Well, of course, what’s going on right now, of course, is Medicare. And of course, Medicare and acupuncture has had a lot of confusion, and I want to clear up that confusion and kind of give you some insight as to where you can fit what we can do and what we can do for the future. So where are we going with Medicare and acupuncture? Well, let’s take a look, go to the slides.

So we start off with just simply Medicare and acupuncture. Always know that my email is here for you as well. But let’s talk about what has occurred for Medicare. July 15th of last year, the Trump administration proposed a plan to cover acupuncture for Medicare patients with chronic low back pain, framing it as a step that could more safely treat pain without supplying patients with opioids. And of course, this is kind of what happened because of the VA. Opioids have become a big problem. They’re looking for something else that can be helpful. So credit to that, we’re working towards a proposal.

So this is what happened in July. The Trump administration proposed this for patients with chronic low back pain, so they could safely treat without using opioids. Okay. So what does safely treat mean? Well, acupuncture. The proposal released, though, would only be for patients enrolled in clinical trials. So this is what initially happened, just clinical trials and under the National Institute of Health. In its statements, CMS acknowledged the evidence base for acupuncture has grown in recent years. However, questions remain.

So what they did was they said “We’re going to open up a dialogue,” and they allowed everyone to send in information to see whether or not it would be helpful. And the idea first, and as I was told by many people in NIH, it was solely going to be just a study. They were going to put a few people in a clinical trial. Well, after all this information, lo and behold, I put fireworks here, January 21st, what I thought wasn’t going to happen happened.

But I’ll give a note. Marilyn Allen, who many of you may be aware of, and I had spoken with a few people at NIH that said something the week before. They said, “When you get acupuncture.” They didn’t say, “If,” they said, “When.” And we thought that was a little puzzling because we thought, “Okay, it’s going to be a study. We have to see where it’s going to go.”

Well, what happened on January 21st is they made this announcement. “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services finalized a decision to cover acupuncture for Medicare patients with chronic low back pain. Before this final National Coverage reconsideration, acupuncture was nationally non-covered by Medicare. CMS conducted evidence reviews and examined the coverage policies of private payers to inform today’s decisions.” So what they did was they got enough information from private payers and others to just decide, “We’re going to cover it.” They didn’t need to do a study. They’re just flat out going to cover it for chronic low back pain.

So what does this mean for us? Well, the decision regarding coverage takes into account the assessment benefits and the harms of opioids. It says, “While a small number of adults age 65 or older have been enrolled in published acupuncture studies, patients with chronic low back pain in these studies showed improvements in function and pain. The evidence reviewed for this decision supports clinical strategies that include nonpharmacologic therapies for chronic low back pain.” While there is variations in indications, the bottom line is they said, “No, we’re going to cover chronic low back pain for acupuncture.”

This decision was published in a memo, if you will, and it’s the CAG-00452N, so if you want to look it up. But here’s it in a nutshell, and what it says is this. “The Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services will cover acupuncture for chronic low back pain under section 1862(a)(1)(A),” which is the Social Security Act, that will cover up to 12 visits in 90 days covered for Medicare beneficiaries so long as the following circumstances are met.

For the purpose that means chronic low back pain is defined by Medicare means it’s lasting longer than 12 weeks, so you’ve got to make sure in the chart notes and history, this patient didn’t just wake up with back pain, but it’s some back pain they’ve had off and on for 12 weeks or greater.

It’s nonspecific that it has no identifiable systemic cause, not associated with metastatic inflammatory infections or other diseases of course, not associated with surgery, and not associated with pregnancy. Now, I will say this, I doubt we’re going to have very many 65 year olds with pregnancy, but that of course is based on some of the other guidelines.

However, beyond the 12 visits they will authorize within in the first 90, an additional eight sessions will be covered for those patients demonstrating improvement, but it says no more than 20 acupuncture treatments may be administered annual. Bear in mind that these 12 visits or initial 12 visits are within 90 days. If you use those up, you certainly could get approved for more. The exciting part here is that the acceptance and how quickly it was to deal with acupuncture and low back pain.

Now, some of you are aware, I have a chiropractic background, but technically if you look at some of the studies, by a small percentage, acupuncture has shown potentially greater outcomes for back pain than does chiropractic adjustments alone. That being said, it also indicates treatment must be discontinued if patient is not improving or regressing. Well, here’s the good news. When someone comes to an acupuncturist with back pain, generally what happens within one to three visits, they’re already showing some levels of improvement. So I don’t think it’s going to be very difficult, though you want to focus on two things: pain reduction and increase in function.

Now, in general, this is the guideline under section 30.3 for acupuncture in Medicare that never covered it. And it says, “Acupuncture,” of course, “is a selection and manipulation of specific acupuncture points.” And it says effective for dates of service January 21st. So actually, when did this begin? January 21st.

Now, the good news is yes, but there are some restrictions, and this is what most people assume that maybe an acupuncturist could bill directly. Well, let’s talk about what is the billing provider versus the performing provider? Because under this provision, this still does not give any indication that an acupuncturist can join Medicare. That’s something that’s going to require an act of Congress. But the billing provider must still be a provider that’s enrolled in Medicare. So that’s going to be a physician as defined by Medicare, which means essentially an MD. So a physician as [inaudible 00:07:08] by 1861 is going to be your medical doctors within their state requirements.

However, it’s also going to allow physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and other auxiliary personnel to furnish acupuncture if they meet the applicable state requirements. So remember, acupuncturists are going to fit under this auxiliary personnel, which means yes, you can work on Medicare, but under the supervision or direction of the MD as so long as the person, and this is the nurse practitioner, has a master’s or doctoral level or degree in acupuncture or Oriental Medicine by an accredited school or a current, full, and active, unrestricted license to practice in a state or a territory of the United States.

In other words, they must be a licensed acupuncturist, if not an MD. An MD can do acupuncture should they choose. Obviously, most won’t. They’re going to refer to someone. So that referral could go to a nurse practitioner, but of course, the nurse practitioner can only do it if they also are licensed for acupuncture. Therefore, this is the opportunity for acupuncturists to work within an MD setting where the MD prescribes, the acupuncturist performs, and it’s billed directly to Medicare.

Now, auxiliary persons performing it must be under, and I’ve underlined it, “the appropriate level of supervision.” Now, what’s important to see here is this distinction. The term “appropriate level” is a little bit different from what others will often state. Generally, what it’ll say is “direct supervision,” and of course, it needs supervision, but “appropriate level” doesn’t mean that you need as much intervention by the doctor, if you will, the medical doctor in order to provide the service. That’s going to still be more up to the practitioner of acupuncture.

But this can be the supervision, bear in mind, of a physician assistant, a nurse practitioner, or a clinical nurse specialist. So this certainly could be an opportunity where you may have a nurse practitioner that practices with an MD overseeing them, but then has a separate business where you work with them, either they come to your office or you go to theirs, and can furnish these services.

The bottom line is the type of supervision required was changed at the request of the acupuncture profession from direct to appropriate level. This accommodation adds a tremendous amount of latitude for collaborative agreements between LAcs and MD providers or even DOs, nurse practitioners and all. While nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists and physicians assistant may not practice acupuncture, their supervisory availability also vastly expands the potential for collaborative agreements, which means it doesn’t necessarily need to be an MD. It could be under a nurse practitioner, physician assistant, and so forth. So it means you don’t necessarily have to work directly for an MD but might be working in a clinic setting where there’s a nurse practitioner or other type of provider that can be registered with Medicare.

The difference here, though, is it’s obviously, an acupuncturist cannot bill directly, so you’re going to hear this term a lot called “incident to.” So in order to bill acupuncture, an acupuncturist must be working incident to this provider. So what does “incident to” mean? It means the service must take place in a noninstitutional setting, which in simple terms means not in a hospital. Number two, it must be a Medicare-credentialed physician that must initiate the patient’s care. So we have to make sure the supervising personnel, if you will, examines, determines, “Yes, I believe they can be helped by acupuncture.”

Subsequent to the initial encounter to which the physician can arrive at the diagnosis, this nonphysician practitioner, meaning auxiliary personnel, may provide the follow-up care. So then the acupuncturer does their work, and then once every thirty days or approximately thereof, this supervising person will just check to see how the patient’s improving or not improving.

Then the next step is the care must occur with direct supervision or the appropriate level. Per the Benefit Policy of Medicare, what does that actually mean? Does that mean you could have someone just give you a referral for acupuncture and you do it in your office? The answer to that is no. Direct supervision in the office setting does not mean the physician must be present in the same room with his or her aide or auxiliary personnel. However, the practitioner must be present in the office suite or immediately available to provide assistance and direction throughout the time the aide is performing the services.

So now this is going to get a little bit different here because notice it says, “Immediately available.” For instance, under auxiliary personnel such as a nurse practitioner, it doesn’t necessarily mean in the office. Under this guise, I’m going to state at this point, you want to make sure you’re working with direct supervision, they’re in the facility, and I think you’re going to be at your safest bet.

However, Medicare will begin paying for acupuncture. And I have not any practitioners yet, but I certainly have a few that are already working with the MD setting, so I’m waiting to see the bills come in.

Ultimately, this. The physician or the supervisor must be actively participating and must be working in the management in the course of care. They can’t just prescribe and not be involved at all. Both the credentialed and physician may qualify for this incident to so long as you’re employed by the group. So remember, you’re going to be working as an employee in some way to this person. You’re not going to be working as an independent contractor. In order to be supervised, you have to work as an employee. Independent contractor means it’s billed under your own name; therefore, that’s not going to fit here.

Now, is this as good as everyone was hoping or wanting? I would say not. However, bear in mind this. This was only supposed to be a study, and it started in July, but by January they decided, “Nope, we don’t need the study. We’re just going to cover it.” So I see this as neither a slight to the profession nor an error in any way. Provider types outside of Medicare are by the CMS definition of auxiliary personnel, must be supervised by Medicare providers. But remember, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an MD. This is the maximum freedom that can be granted until the Social Security Act is amended to include acupuncturists.

Now, here is the big problem for us. We need to make sure that acupuncturists, by an act of Congress, can become providers under Medicare. Once that happens, there will be direct billing, and I think that certainly will be the area that we’re looking towards that’s going to be more cost effective. The bigger issue for us, though, the power does not rest with CMS as much, it rests with our profession and dealing with Congress, meaning we need to make sure as a profession we have some type of national certification where we make sure that they can be trusted, that these services are under a guideline that’s standardized on a national level. Not to say that you can’t do things differently, but that we’re going to have to have some national standards, if you will.

The excellent news here is that they’re going to cover acupuncture. Now, some people are going to wonder, “Well, what do they mean by cover?” Well, they’re going to cover the acupuncture codes themselves, meaning they’re going to cover 97810 to 97814. And you may question, what would be the prices of these codes? Well, to give you an idea, the Medicare uses a conversion factor for their codes. The conversion factor is roughly between 37 to $40 depending on the region you’re in, and they base it on the relative value unit. The relative value unit for manual acupuncture is about 1.03, and for electroacupuncture is about 1.15, which means you can assume the first set is going to be paid somewhere in the $40-plus range, the additional sets likely in the $30 range. For many of you, that generally is going to mean what you’re seeing for VA in many instances.

This is a real great step forward, but I do want to warn that it is not for direct billing. We still cannot join Medicare. However, what about working collaboratively? What about talking to some MDs in your area where possibly you work in their office a few hours a week or even just a few hours a month, if you will, to start treating some of these patients to see how they’re doing? Remember, Medicare is a big insurer. Everyone over 65. And how many people that have Medicare probably have a little back pain? It’s a tremendous number. And what they’re trying to do is to give persons an alternative.

Here’s what I will say. Acupuncture works well. Once we start getting more and more of these services provided, you’re going to see where Medicare is going to come on board, allow acupuncturists to join and bill directly. But as of now, what about working collaboratively? So is Medicare perfect for us? No. But think of this step. Who could have imagined even a few years ago that this would have occurred?

I want to thank you for spending some time with me. Please take a note, if you go to our website, the American Acupuncture Council Network, and go to our news section, we have this information and much more on upcoming changes and things happening with coding. I suggest go there, sign up for our email service. What we provide are lots of news items.

I’m going to give you a couple of quick items that are occurring. UnitedHealthcare is requiring modifier GP on all physical medicine codes regardless of the profession. As of note for any practitioner in the New York area, New York Empire is also now beginning this GP modifier. And as I’m sure you’re aware, the VA is doing so as well. In addition, of course, things are changing for the VA. Of course, on the East Coast, they’re now using a company called OptumHealth. The West Coast continues with TriWest.

As always, we want to be the most effective place for your information. Take a look at all of our sites. And I welcome you to always come in and say hi to me. Also, coming up next week will be Moshe Heller. And I wish you all the best, and continue your practices strong. We want to be with you and To The Point. This is Sam Collins.

Please subscribe to our YouTube Channel ( ) Follow us on Instagram (, LinkedIn ( Periscope ( Twitter ( If you have any questions about today’s show or want to know why the American Acupuncture Council is your best choice for malpractice insurance, call us at (800) 838-0383. or find out just how much you can save with AAC by visiting: