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Coding for closed treatments of fractures

By Mary LeGrand, RN, MA, CCS-P, CPC; Margaret Maley, BSN, MS; Robert H. Haralson III, MD, MBA; M. Bradford Henley, MD, MBA; Matthew Twetten, MA

Coding for closed treatment of fractures is controversial; this article provides suggestions on how to code for this form of treatment. Closed treatments are either with or without manipulation. An orthopaedic surgeon has the following two ways of coding closed treatment of a fracture under Current Procedural Terminology (CPT):

  • “Global” reporting of the services by using the 90-day, global fracture code with or without reporting the initial evaluation and management (E&M) service that resulted in the decision for closed treatment, or
  • “Itemized” reporting of the services by reporting each patient encounter separately. The physician reports each service independently and does not enter into a 90-day global period.

The AAOS position is that the orthopaedist must have the option of coding these services either way to enable the treating surgeon to address the specific situation and to meet the physician’s contractual obligations with payors.

Charging a single, all-inclusive large global fee may seem excessive to a patient, especially if the patient doesn’t understand that the charge includes 90 days of physician E&M services related to the fracture. Other times, insurance companies may pay for emergency visits (for example, a global fee with limited patient financial responsibility) but may not pay for office visits, or vice versa. Some insurers require high copayments for office visits, while others apply a coinsurance to the global fracture service. In these situations, a patient may express concern about the financial cost of one method or the other. The physician should report the method that best addresses the situation, meets the physician’s contractual obligations, and complies with coding rules.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) does not have a preference for coding closed nonmanipulative fracture services. Processing a single global claim for 90 days of care may be less expensive for the government, insurance companies, and physician offices than submitting and processing multiple claims (during 90 days of fracture care) and adjudicating disputes resulting from appeals to claim denials.

Because CMS does not give coding advice, it has not given specific directions for reporting closed treatment of fractures. In 2003, however, CMS issued a directive about adjudication of claims stating that carriers will not allow the total compensation for fragmented (eg, itemized) coding to exceed the total compensation for comparable global coding.

Additionally, in recent years, CMS carriers (such as Rhode Island and Kentucky) have asked for a refund when investigating a patient complaint resulting from a large financial responsibility after a physician had charged for nonmanipulative fracture “surgery.”

Global and itemized options
When using the global method, code for the procedure, which invokes a 90-day global period. All subsequent E&M services related to the fracture are covered by the global fee as well as the application of the first cast or splint. The original E&M service may be coded with a modifier (such as 57 or 25), depending on the level of the encounter. If the encounter is minimal, which it may be for evaluation of an isolated injury, do not code for the encounter. Many payors will not pay for an encounter code in this situation.

When using the itemized method, report the initial services by the physician or nonphysician provider (physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or clinical nurse specialist) with the appropriate codes, as follows:

  • E&M for the first visit—9920x-25 for a new patient office visit, 9921x-25 for an established patient office visit, or 9924x-25 for a consultation provided in the emergency department (ED) or in the physician office. The modifier 25 is necessary to show that the E&M service is a significant and separately identifiable service because it is associated with a procedure (application of a cast or splint). If the service is provided in a setting other than the office or ED, report the appropriate category and level based on the place of service and append modifier 25.
  • Application of an initial cast or splint (assuming that the physician or supervised staff employed by or under contract to the physician applies the cast or splint)
  • Supplies for casting/splinting, if applicable, depending on the place of service
  • Subsequent services are reported as follows:
  • E&M services using established patient visit codes if the services are provided in the office (9921x), or other E&M code that is specific to the service setting
  • Application of replacement cast(s) or splint(s), assuming the physician or supervised employed or contracted staff applies the cast or splint). Add modifier 25 to the appropriate E&M code if it is a “significant and separate service” provided in addition to the procedural service (such as application of the cast/splint).
  • Supplies, if applicable, depending on the place of service

When is closed treatment of fractures reported?
Closed treatment of fractures is commonly reported in two scenarios. One is when the injury requiring nonmanipulative treatment is the only procedural service performed by the physician (Example 1 and Example 2).

As these examples show, the reimbursement is about the same, but different methods are advantageous for different situations. Itemized reporting requires the physician to have supporting documentation and medical necessity for the E&M service at each subsequent visit. No specific E&M documentation is required for subsequent visits when fractures are reported using the global fracture codes. The orthopaedic surgeon should have the flexibility to vary the way fracture care is coded to allow what is best for the patient and society.

Closed treatment of fractures may also be reported within the global period of another procedural or surgical treatment (for example, during the same hospitalization as the open treatment of another fracture or injury such as anterior cruciate ligament [ACL] repair). This commonly occurs when a patient has sustained multiple injuries or fractures or has sustained a new fracture within the global period of a prior service (patient slipped and fell while using crutches after an ACL repair).

Situations involving the closed treatments of fractures that occur concurrently or within the global period of another procedure or surgical treatment most commonly arise when caring for patients with multiple injuries, one of which is a fracture requiring a closed treatment.

Example 3 shows reporting for an elderly patient who fell and sustained an intertrochanteric proximal femur fracture (treated with an intramedullary implant) and a clavicular fracture (treated closed without manipulation). It assumes that the patient was evaluated in the emergency department (ED) on the same day that both her intertrochanteric fracture was stabilized surgically and her clavicle fracture was treated without manipulation.

Reporting by an ED physician
Another problem in reporting the closed treatment of fractures is the confusion about how an ED physician should code for nonmanipulative fracture care when he or she was the only physician who saw the patient in the ED. On occasion, the ED physician has used a global fracture care code for the application of a splint/cast, and then referred the patient to an orthopaedist for follow-up care. In such a situation, the orthopaedist is unable to receive reimbursement for the care provided.

CPT suggests that only the physician who provides the “restorative” treatment and is “responsible for the initial cast, follow-up evaluation(s) and the management of the fracture until healed” should use the global code. The proper coding is for the ED physician to code for the ED visit and application of a splint if appropriate.

If manipulative fracture care that meets the definition of “restorative treatment” is provided by an ED physician and the ED physician has provided a “significant portion of the global fracture care,” the ED physician may use the global code with modifier 54 (surgical care only). However, this treatment must meet the “restorative” care definition and should not be merely splinting a fracture after straightening the limb.

According to CPT, the following reference supports reporting the services using an E&M code and the appropriate cast/splint application code as applicable. “If cast application or strapping is provided as an initial service (eg, casting of a sprained ankle or knee) in which no other procedure or treatment (eg, surgical repair, reduction of a fracture or joint dislocation) is performed or is expected to be performed by a physician rendering the initial care only, use the casting, strapping and/or supply code (99070) in addition to an evaluation and management code as appropriate.” Supplies would be reported using the appropriate A (nonMedicare) or Q (Medicare and other payors requiring Q) codes.

Mary LeGrand, RN, MA, CCS-P, CPC, and Margaret Maley, BSN, MS, are consultants with KarenZupko & Associates. Robert H. Haralson III, MD, MBA, is AAOS director of medical affairs. M. Bradford Henley, MD, MBA, is a member of the AAOS Coding, Coverage, and Reimbursement Committee; Matthew Twetten, MA, is senior policy analyst in the AAOS department of health policy and governance initiatives.

If you have coding questions or would like to see a coding column on a specific topic, e-mail aaoscomm@aaos.org

References

  1. CMS: 40.4 - Adjudication of Claims for Global Surgeries (Rev. 1, 10-01-03)
  2. B3-4824, B3-4825, B3-7100-7120.7
  3. Abstracted from CMS EOB regarding closed treatment of acetabular fracture (27220) which stated: “The documentation stated “no surgery required” therefore this service will be denied as billed…the physician is liable for refunding an overpayment…”
  4. CPT Assistant February 1996, Vol 6 Issue 02; page 3
  5. CPT Assistant Summer 1995, Vol 5, page 3
  6. CPT Assistant February 1996, Vol 6 Issue 02, page3 and Summer 1995, Vol 5. Page 3
  7. 008 AMA CPT Manual. 2007 American Medical Association, page 126.

AAOS Now
July 2008 Issue
http://www.aaos.org/news/aaosnow/jul08/managing2.asp