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59 Modifier Medical Bill Controversy Causes CMS To React


59 Modifier Medical Bill Confounds CMS

The 59 Modifier Medical Bill Controversy.A friend of mine forwarded a note on how medical bills could have be over-inflated by the use of what is known as a 59 modifier.  Her company does not use that modifier.

Picture of 59 Modifier Medical Bill folder

According to Optum – a medical bill coding company, the Center for Medicare Services (CMS) instituted a new set of codes to combat this overcharging.  From what I have read, the use of this modifier on certain medical bill charges was basically rampant.

For further reading, you may want to check out this guidance transmittal from the CMS.  CMS estimated that the use of a 59 modifier cost them over $75 million in excess charges.

The modifier can also be used in Workers Comp.  I could stand corrected, but I am under the impression that PPO Networks and bill review systems for WC would have not caught the overuse of this modifier.

According to CMS:

The CPT Manual defines modifier 59 as follows: “Distinct Procedural Service: Under certain circumstances, it may be necessary to indicate that a procedure or service was distinct or independent from other non-E/M services performed on the same day. Modifier 59 is used to identify procedures/services, other than E/M services, that are not normally reported together, but are appropriate under the circumstances. Documentation must support a different session, different procedure or surgery, different site or organ system, separate incision/excision, separate lesion, or separate injury (or area of injury in extensive injuries) not ordinarily encountered or performed on the same day by the same individual.

This leads one to wonder how many overcharges were experienced in the Workers Comp arena. 

CMS points out the main misuse of the 59 modifier.

Modifier 59 is used inappropriately if the basis for its use is that the narrative description of the two codes is different. One of the common misuses of modifier 59 is related to the portion of the definition of modifier 59 allowing its use to describe a “different procedure or surgery.”

Number 59 Modifier Medical Bill Controversy
Wikimedia Commons – The Federal Government of Germany.

The code descriptors of the two codes of a code pair edit usually represent different procedures, even though they may be overlapping. The edit indicates that the two procedures should not be reported together if performed at the same anatomic site and same patient encounter as those procedures would not be considered to be “separate and distinct.”

The provider should not use modifier 59 for such an edit based on the two codes being “different procedures.” (See example 8) However, if the two procedures are performed at separate anatomic sites or at separate patient encounters on the same date of service, modifier 59 may be appended to indicate that they are different procedures on that date of service.

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James J Moore - Workers Comp Expert

Raleigh, NC, United States

About The Author...

James founded a Workers’ Compensation consulting firm, J&L Risk Management Consultants, Inc. in 1996. J&L’s mission is to reduce our clients’ Workers Compensation premiums by using time-tested techniques. J&L’s claims, premium, reserve and Experience Mod reviews have saved employers over $9.8 million in earned premiums over the last three years. J&L has saved numerous companies from bankruptcy proceedings as a result of insurance overpayments.

James has over 27 years of experience in insurance claims, audit, and underwriting, specializing in Workers’ Compensation. He has supervised, and managed the administration of Workers’ Compensation claims, and underwriting in over 45 states. His professional experience includes being the Director of Risk Management for the North Carolina School Boards Association. He created a very successful Workers’ Compensation Injury Rehabilitation Unit for school personnel.

James’s educational background, which centered on computer technology, culminated in earning a Masters of Business Administration (MBA); an Associate in Claims designation (AIC); and an Associate in Risk Management designation (ARM). He is a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and a licensed financial advisor. The NC Department of Insurance has certified him as an insurance instructor. He also possesses a Bachelors’ Degree in Actuarial Science.

LexisNexis has twice recognized his blog as one of the Top 25 Blogs on Workers’ Compensation. J&L has been listed in AM Best’s Preferred Providers Directory for Insurance Experts – Workers Compensation for over eight years. He recently won the prestigious Baucom Shine Lifetime Achievement Award for his volunteer contributions to the area of risk management and safety. James was recently named as an instructor for the prestigious Insurance Academy.

James is on the Board of Directors and Treasurer of the North Carolina Mid-State Safety Council. He has published two manuals on Workers’ Compensation and three different claims processing manuals. He has also written and has been quoted in numerous articles on reducing Workers’ Compensation costs for public and private employers. James publishes a weekly newsletter with 7,000 readers.

He currently possess press credentials and am invited to various national Workers Compensation conferences as a reporter.

James’s articles or interviews on Workers’ Compensation have appeared in the following publications or websites:

  • Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS)
  • Entrepreneur Magazine
  • Bloomberg Business News
  • WorkCompCentral.com
  • Claims Magazine
  • Risk & Insurance Magazine
  • Insurance Journal
  • Workers Compensation.com
  • LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites
  • Various trade publications


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