Dermatologists Driving Use of Vascular Lasers in the Medicare Population

Doug Brunk

December 21, 2021

Use of vascular lasers in the Medicare population is increasing, primarily among dermatologists. In addition, as a proportion of Medicare charges submitted that were reimbursed, the highest reimbursements were for dermatologists and those in the Western geographic region.

Those are among the key findings from an analysis that aimed to characterize trends in use and reimbursement patterns of vascular lasers in the Medicare-insured population.

"There are several modalities for vascular laser treatment, including the pulse dye laser, the frequency doubled KTP laser, and others," presenting author Partik Singh, MD, MBA, said during a virtual abstract session at the annual meeting of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. "Laser treatment of vascular lesions may sometimes be covered by insurance, depending on the indication, but little is known about how and which clinicians are taking advantage of this covered treatment."

Singh, a 2nd-year dermatology resident at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and coauthor Mara Weinstein Velez, MD, extracted data from the 2012-2018 Medicare Public Use File, which includes 100% fee-for-service, non–Medicare Advantage claims based on CPT codes, yet no information on patient data, clinical context, or indications. Outcomes of interest were total vascular laser claims per year, annual vascular laser claims per clinician, annual clinicians using vascular lasers, accepted reimbursements defined by the allowed charge or the submitted charge to Medicare, and clinical specialties and geographic location.

The researchers found that more than half of clinicians who used vascular lasers during the study period were dermatologists (55%), followed by general surgeons (6%), family practice/internal medicine physicians (5% each) and various others. Use of vascular lasers among all clinicians increased 10.5% annually during the study period, from 3,786 to 6,883, and was most pronounced among dermatologists, whose use increased 18.4% annually, from 1,878 to 5,182. "Nondermatologists did not have a big change in their overall utilization rate, but they did have a steady utilization of vascular lasers, roughly at almost 2,000 claims per year," Singh said.

The researchers also observed that the use of vascular lasers on a per-clinician basis increased 7.4% annually among all clinicians during the study period, from 77.3 to 118.7. This was mostly driven by dermatologists, whose per-clinician use increased 10.4% annually, from 81.7 to 148.7. Use by nondermatologists remained about stable, with just a 0.1% increase annually, from 73.4 to 74. In addition, the number of clinicians who billed for vascular laser procedures increased 2.9% annually between 2012 and 2018, from 49 to 58. This growth was driven mostly by dermatologists, who increased their billing for vascular laser procedures by 7.2% annually, from 23 to 35 clinicians.

In other findings, dermatologists were reimbursed at 68.3% of submitted charges, compared with 59.3% of charges submitted by other clinicians (P = .0001), and reimbursement rates were greatest in the Western geographic region of the United States vs. the Northeast, Midwest, and Southern regions (73.1% vs. 50.2%, 65.4%, and 55.3%, respectively; P < .0001).

"Use of vascular lasers is increasing primarily among dermatologists, though there is steady use of these procedures by nondermatologists," Singh concluded. "Medicare charges were more often fully reimbursed when billed by dermatologists and those in the Western U.S., perhaps suggesting a better familiarity with appropriate indications and better administrative resources for coverage of vascular laser procedures."

After the meeting, Singh acknowledged certain limitations of the analysis, including the fact that it "was limited only to Medicare Part B fee-for-service claims, not including Medicare Advantage," he told this news organization. "Our conclusions do not necessarily hold true for Medicaid or commercial insurers, for instance. Moreover, this dataset doesn't provide patient-specific information, such as the indication for the procedure. Further studies are needed to characterize utilization of various lasers in not only Medicare beneficiaries, but also those with Medicaid, private insurance, and patients paying out-of-pocket. Additionally, study is also needed to explain why these differences in reimbursement hold true."

The researchers reported having no relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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