CHICAGO – Current Procedural Terminology coding for endovascular aneurysm repair has been totally overhauled for 2018 with the introduction of a family of 20 new codes and codes for other vascular procedures have also been updated.
The new EVAR CPT codes attempt to capture the work involved in performing the procedures based upon the anatomy of the aneurysm and the treated vessels rather than being device-based, as previously,, explained in presenting the coding and reimbursement for 2018 at a symposium on vascular surgery sponsored by Northwestern University.
“The new EVAR codes for 2018 have got a lot of gains. There are some losses as well, but overall, I think it’s going to be very positive moving forward,” according to Dr. Sideman, a vascular surgeon at the University of Texas, San Antonio, who serves as chair of the Society for Vascular Surgery Coding and Reimbursement Committee and an adviser to the American Medical Association Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC).
“What we gained was a new code for ruptured aneurysm repair, a new code for enhanced fixation, a new code for percutaneous access, new codes for alternative access options, and now all the access codes are add-on codes. But what we traded off was loss due to bundling. So catheterization is now bundled into the main procedure, radiographic supervision and interpretation is now bundled. The big thing that really hurt was we lost all proximal extensions to the renal arteries and all distal extensions to the iliac bifurcations – they’re also bundled into the main procedure,” he said.
Restructuring the EVAR codes was a multiyear collaborative project of the SVS, the American College of Surgeons, the Society of Interventional Radiology, the Society of Thoracic Surgery, the American College of Cardiology, and the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions. The impetus was twofold: recognition that the existing codes seriously undervalued the work involved in EVAR because, for example, they didn’t distinguish between ruptured and elective aneurysm repair, nor did they recognize the unique challenges and advantages of percutaneous access.
Also, representatives of the professional societies involved with vascular medicine recognized that they had to develop a detailed proposal for coding restructuring or matters might be taken out of their hands. Bundling of codes has become the prevailing dogma at the RUC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Their current policy is that when analysis of coding patterns indicates two codes are billed together at least 51% of the time, that’s considered a ‘typical’ situation and a new code must be created combining them. The harsh reality for clinicians is that under what Dr. Sideman called “RUC math,” the new bundled codes invariably pay less than the two old ones.
“There was a little bit of smoke and mirrors – ‘Look at the pretty flashing lights and not what’s going on behind over here’ – as we tried to maintain value as we bundled these EVAR codes,” Dr. Sideman recalled. “I can stand here and tell you I did my very best to push for the best values possible. It can be a painful process, but I thought we came out ok.”
How the new EVAR codes work
Dr. Sideman explained that the impact of thewill depend upon a surgeon’s practice pattern.
He offered as a concrete example a patient undergoing elective EVAR of the aorta and both iliac arteries with percutaneous access and placement of a bifurcated device with one docking limb. In 2017, this might have been handled using CPT codes 34802, 36200-50, and 75952-26, for a total of 31.05 Relative Value Units (RVUs) of work.
In 2018, however, this same surgical strategy would be coded as 34705 (elective endovascular repair of infrarenal aorta and/or iliac artery or arteries) plus 34713 x 2 (percutaneous access and closure), for a total of 34.58 RVUs. Thus, the surgeon would come out 3.53 RVUs ahead in 2018, which at a conversion factor of $35.78/RVU translates to an extra $126.30.
On the other hand, if the surgeon chose to use a bifurcated device with one docking limb, a left iliac bell-bottom extension, a right iliac bell-bottom extension, and percutaneous access, in 2017, this would have been coded as 34802, 34825, 34826, 36200-50, 75952-26, and 75953-26 x 2, for a total of 44.29 RVUs of work. In 2018, this same treatment strategy would be coded as 34705 plus 34713 x 2, for a total of 34.58 RVUs, or a knockdown of 9.71 fewer RVUs compared with the year before, which translates to $347.42 less.
“The more extensions you use, the more you’re going to come out behind going forward,” according to Dr. Sideman.
Other coding changes in 2018
Sclerotherapy of single and multiple veins (codes 36470 and 36471) got down-valued from 1.10 and 2.49 to 0.75 and 1.5 RVUs, respectively.
Angiography of the extremities (75710 and 75716) will be better reimbursed in 2018. In what Dr. Sideman called “a good win,” unilateral angiography will be rated as 1.75 RVUs, up from 1.14 in 2017, while bilateral angiography increased from 1.31 to 1.97 RVUs.
“The other nice thing I can tell you is that through campaigning and lobbying and comments to CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services], we got them to reverse their recommendations from 2017 to 2018 on the dialysis family of codes,” the surgeon continued.
Reimbursement for the dialysis codes took a big hit from 2016 to 2017, amounting to several hundred million dollars less in reimbursement, but CMS has reversed its policy on that score. The RVUs for the various dialysis codes have increased from 2017 to 2018 by 5%-21%, with central venous angioplasty (CPT 36907) garnering the biggest increase.
Existing RVUs were retained for 2018 in three of the four selective catheter placement codes. However, reimbursement for 36215 (first order catheterization of the thoracic or brachiocephalic branch) dropped from 4.67 to 4.17 RVUs because physician surveys showed the time involved was less than previously rated. Once the RUC and CMS saw that the time involved in a procedure has decreased, it became impossible to maintain the RVU, Dr. Sideman explained.
And speaking of time involved in procedures, Dr. Sideman offered a final plea to his vascular medicine colleagues:
“When you get surveys from the RUC asking for your input, please, please, please, fill them out because that’s how we get our direct physician input into the valuation of codes.”
He reported having no financial conflicts of interest regarding his presentation.
A detailed listing of many of the codes and changes can be found at the American College of Radiology, and the Society for Vascular Surgery has coding resources available on , as well.