The evaluation and management (E/M) changes for calendar year 2021 are the result of a collaborative effort between the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
CMS first addressed the changes in the 2020 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule, in which CMS indicated that it planned on adopting the AMA’s code revisions and accompanying guideline changes for the E/M office or outpatient visit codes.
In this year’s MPFS proposed rule, CMS addressed the E/M RVU changes, the proposal to create a visit complexity add-on code, and its agreement with the AMA changes that will be implemented January 1, 2021.
Here is a summary of the E/M changes:
- The level 1 new patient office or outpatient visit code, CPT® code 99201, will be deleted.
- Medical decision-making or time, as redefined by the AMA, will determine the E/M level selection—history and exam will no longer count as key components in level selection.
- When time is the determining factor, that time will be based on the total time of the visit rather than on typical face-to-face time.
- Each level of office or other outpatient visit will have a separate payment amount.
- CMS will recognize the new prolonged service code, CPT code 99417. CPT codes 99358 and 99359 will be payable when reported with an office or other outpatient visit code.
In theory, shifting level selection to time and medical decision-making should be easy. However, healthcare physicians and practitioners are heavily used to the previous guidelines, specifically with regard to the key components and typically associated times for various visit levels. Now these same well-schooled practitioners face the new AMA framework.
Healthcare practitioners will need to familiarize themselves with a new medical decision-making table as well as a new definition of “time” for office or outpatient visit services. Time, as redefined, now encompasses the practitioner’s total time spent on services during the day of the visit, including both face-to-face and non-face-to-face time.
It will include time spent preparing to see the patient, counseling the patient and/or family, coordinating care, and documenting in the medical record. Practitioners will also need to be mindful that these new guidelines only apply to the office or outpatient visit CPT codes. Outside of these sites of service, practitioners will still determine the E/M level based on the established 1995 and 1997 guidelines, and code-specific CPT guidelines.
Also, remember that in the 2020 MPFS final rule, CMS finalized a new add-on HCPCS code with an effective date of January 1, 2021, to recognize additional resource costs that are inherent in furnishing primary care and certain types of specialty visits. The code, referred to as “GPCX1” and not numbered as of yet, was finalized with the description below:
GPCX1 – Visit complexity inherent to evaluation and management associated with medical care services that serve as the continuing focal point for all needed health care services and/or with medical care services that are part of ongoing care related to a patient’s single, serious, or complex chronic condition.