New Billing Code for Added COVID Practice Expense

Kerry Dooley Young

September 11, 2020

The nation's largest physician association is seeking to establish a path to payment for extra practice expenses required to care for patients during the COVID pandemic and possible future public health emergencies.

The American Medical Association (AMA) on September 8 announced that a new code, 99072, is intended to cover additional supplies, materials, and clinical staff time over and above those usually included in an office visit when performed during a declared public health emergency as defined by law due to respiratory-transmitted infectious disease, the AMA said in a release.

Fifty national medical specialty societies and other organizations worked with the AMA's Specialty Society RVS Update Committee (RUC) over the summer to collect data on the costs of maintaining safe medical offices during the public health emergency. It has submitted recommendations to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking to persuade the federal agencies to recognize the new 99072 payment code.

Dr Mark Synovec

The intention is to recognize the extra expenses involved in steps now routinely taken to reduce the risk for COVID transmission from office visits, Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) Editorial Panel Chair Mark S. Synovec, MD, told Medscape Medical News. Some practices have adapted by having staff screen patients before they enter offices and making arrangements to keep patients at a safe distance from others during their visits, he said.

"Everyone's life has significantly changed because of COVID and the healthcare system has dramatically changed," Synovec said. "It was pretty clear that the status quo was not going to work."

Physician practices will welcome this change, said Veronica Bradley, CPC, a senior industry adviser to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). An office visit that in the past may have involved only basic infection-control measures, such as donning a pair of gloves, now may involve clinicians taking the time to put on more extensive protective gear, she said.

"Now they are taking a heck of a lot more precautions, and there's more time and more supplies being consumed," Bradley said in an interview.

Code Looks Ahead to Future Use

The AMA explained how this new code differs from CPT code 99070, which is typically reported for supplies and materials that may be used or provided to patients during an office visit.

The new 99072 code applies only during declared public health emergencies and applies only to additional items required to support "a safe in-person provision" of evaluation, treatment, and procedures, AMA said.

"These items contrast with those typically reported with code 99070, which focuses on additional supplies provided over and above those usually included with a specific service, such as drugs, intravenous (IV) catheters, or trays," AMA said.

The CPT panel sought to structure the new code for covering COVID practice expenses so that it could not be abused, and also looked ahead to the future, Synovec said.

"It's a code that you would put on during a public health emergency as defined by law that would be related to a respiratory-transmitted infectious disease. Obviously we meant it for SARS-CoV-2," he said. "Hopefully we can go another 100 years before we have another pandemic, but we also wanted to prepare something where if we have another airborne respiratory virus that requires additional practice expenses as seen this time it would be available for use."

The AMA also announced a second addition, CPT code 86413, that anticipates greater use of quantitative measurements of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, as opposed to a qualitative assessment (positive/negative) provided by laboratory tests reported by other CPT codes.

More information is available on the AMA website.

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