Like ICD codes, CPT codes communicate uniform information about medical services and procedures to healthcare payers. The difference is that on claim forms, CPT codes identify services rendered rather than patient diagnoses.
What are the most common physical therapy CPT codes?
Below are the 20 top CPT codes recorded within WebPT between September 2022 and February 2023:
CPT codes are copyright 2022 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.
What’s the difference between ICD-10 and CPT codes?
As mentioned in the intro above, while CPT codes are similar to ICD-10 codes in that they both communicate uniform information about medical services and procedures, CPT codes identify services rendered rather than diagnoses. In short, CPT codes are procedure codes and ICD-10 codes are patient diagnosis codes.
Here is an example of ICD-10 and CPT codes in use: today, if you diagnose a patient with “Benign paroxysmal vertigo, bilateral,” you would use the ICD-10 code H81.13 to indicate your diagnosis. Then, you might complete standard canalith repositioning on your patient, in which case you would include CPT procedural code 95992 on your claim.
Which CPT codes should PTs, OTs, and SLPs use to bill for remote and virtual care services?
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS and many commercial payers began allowing rehab therapists to provide and bill for certain remote care services. In most cases, therapists bill for “true” telehealth services using the same CPT codes they would bill for services provided in the clinic (typically with some type of telehealth modifier affixed to the claim, per the individual payer’s guidelines).
Outside of “true” telehealth—and based on temporary, crisis-related regulatory provisions—therapists may bill the following codes when providing remote patient care:
For more details on these codes—including payer coverage and required modifiers—download this free Telehealth Billing Quick Guide for PTs, OTs, and SLPs.
What is modifier 59? How do I use it?
Update: Beginning July 1, 2019, CMS will unbundle NCCI edit pairs when providers attach the appropriate modifier (59, XE, XS, XP, or XU) to either the first-column or second-column code (assuming, of course, that the situation warrants the use of one of these modifiers). Please note that while some Medicaid programs, commercial payers, and Medicare Advantage payers may follow suit, this change does not necessarily affect them, so be sure to reach out to your other payers to determine where they stand. Learn more here.
The CPT Manual defines modifier 59 as the following:
“Under certain circumstances, the physician may need to indicate that a procedure or service was distinct or independent from other services performed on the same day. Modifier 59 is used to identify procedures [and/or] services that are not normally reported together, but are appropriate under the circumstances. This may represent a different session or patient encounter, 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 physician. However, when another already established modifier is appropriate, it should be used rather than modifier 59. Only if no more descriptive modifier is available, and the use of modifier 59 best explains the circumstances, should modifier 59 be used."
That explanation is a bit dense, and it’s not super relatable. But that’s because modifier 59 is intended mainly for surgical procedures, so the definition leans a great deal that way.
So, how does modifier 59 come into play in the therapy setting? If you’re providing two wholly separate and distinct services during the same treatment period, it might be modifier 59 time. The National Correct Coding Initiative (NCCI) has identified procedures that therapists commonly perform together and labeled these “edit pairs.” Thus, if you bill a CPT code that is linked to one of these pairs, you’ll receive payment for only one of the codes. It’s therefore your responsibility as the therapist to determine whether you’re providing linked services or wholly separate services. This, in turn, determines whether modifier 59 is appropriate.
Modifier 59 Example
For example, let’s look at one of the most commonly billed codes: 97140 (manual therapy techniques like mobilization/manipulation, manual lymphatic drainage, or manual traction on one or more regions, each for 15 minutes). According to NCCI in July 2021, the following are considered linked services when billed in combination with 97140: 95851, 95852, 97018, 97124, 97750, and 99186. So, if you bill any of these codes with 97140, you’ll receive payment for only 97140. Medicare actually uses this example on its site to explain the appropriate use of modifier 59 among rehab therapists.
CMS states that when billing 97140 and any of its pairs for the same session or date, modifier 59 is only appropriate if the therapist performs the two procedures in distinctly different 15-minute intervals. This means that you cannot report the two codes together if you performed them during the same 15-minute time interval.
If the care you provide meets the appropriate criteria, you can add modifier 59 to indicate it was a separate service and should be payable in addition to the 97140. The same holds true for billing 97140 with 95851, 95852, 97018, or 97750. It's important to note that you can never bill 96523 or 97124 with 97140, because these codes represent mutually exclusive procedures.
When should I use modifier 59?
Modifier 59 can monumentally impact your Medicare reimbursements, and unfortunately, it’s the modifier physical therapists struggle with most. Perhaps that’s because the CPT Manual doesn’t offer the most helpful guidance. Therefore, we recommend asking the following questions to decide if and when you should use modifier 59.
Are you billing for two services that form an NCCI edit pair?
There are instances in which it’s appropriate to use modifier 59 in conjunction with physical therapy services. Recognizing those instances, though, requires you to recognize NCCI edit pairs. To make a long story short, edit pairs—also called linked services—are sets of procedures that therapists commonly perform together. If you submit a claim containing both of the codes in an edit pair, you’ll only receive payment for one of the procedures, because the payer will assume that one of the services was essentially “built into” the other.
Did you perform those two services separately and independently of one another?
Okay, so you’re dealing with an edit pair. But what if—for whatever reason—you actually didn’t perform those services together? That’s where modifier 59 comes into the picture. Basically, when you append modifier 59 to one of the CPT codes in an edit pair, it signals to the payer that you provided both services in the pair separately and independently of one another—meaning that you also should receive separate payments for each procedure.
Does your documentation support your assertion that you performed the two services separately and independently of one another?
When it comes to telling your patients’ stories, codes and modifiers can only say so much. It’s on you to fill in the plot holes with detailed, defensible documentation. After all, your documentation justifies your billing decisions—and if you’re ever faced with an audit, your notes will be your main source of proof that those decisions were the right ones. That means you should never:
- append modifier 59 simply because you know it will guarantee payment.
- skimp on your documentation—or intentionally document vaguely or misleadingly.
- routinely use the 59 modifier in conjunction with re-evaluation codes. (Doing so could throw up a red flag to your payers.)
Let’s assume that, yes, your documentation does support your assertion that you performed the two services separately and independently of one another. So, next you’d ask:
Is a more descriptive modifier available?
Clinicians, coders, and billers should only use modifier 59 as a last resort (i.e., when there’s no better option). As the CPT Manual states, “...when another already established modifier is appropriate, it should be used rather than modifier 59. Only if no more descriptive modifier is available, and the use of modifier 59 best explains the circumstances, should modifier 59 be used.”
Now, you’ve probably heard talk about the set of modifiers that CMS created for providers to use in place of modifier 59, when appropriate. Modifiers XE, XP, XS, and XU are intended to bypass a CCI edit by denoting a distinct encounter, anatomical structure, practitioner, or unusual service. However, even though these modifiers went into effect on January 1, 2015, the APTA has stated that therapists do not need to use them in place of modifier 59—at least not yet. That being said, therapists may be required to use the new modifiers in the future, so keep an eye—or an ear—out for further instruction regarding modifier 59 usage.
What are the most commonly used CCI edits for PT, OT, and SLP private practice settings?
Below is a table with the most common CCI edit pairs related to different therapy types, courtesy of PT compliance expert Rick Gawenda, owner of Gawenda Seminars & Consulting. Here’s how to use the chart:
- Look for the primary CPT code you are billing in Column 1.
- Check Column 2. If you are billing any of the codes listed, they will be considered mutually exclusive or linked.
- If the code in Column 2 has a “y” next to it, you can add modifier 59.
- If there’s an “n,” then you should not bill the code in combination with the code in Column 1.
Please note that this is not the complete list of NCCI edits for the CPT codes listed; you can find the complete list on CMS’s website here. Most government payers—like Medicare, Tricare, and Medicaid—use this same list. However, private payers often create their own edit pairs; therefore, there is no guarantee they will pay, even with an applied modifier 59. Codes that are formatted in bold are new in 2021.
You’ll also notice that there are several former NCCI edit pairs that are missing from this table. That’s because CMS—at the behest of the APTA—has agreed to accept these pairs without the use of a modifier. In other words, you can perform the following services—and receive payment for them—without needing to affix modifier 59:
- 97110 with 97164
- 97112 with 97164
- 97113 with 97164
- 97116 with 97164
- 97140 with 97164
- 97150 with 97164
- 97530 with 97116
- 97530 with 97164
- 99281-99285 with 97161-97168
- 97161-97163 with 97140
- 97127 with 97164
- 97140 with 97530
- 97530 with 97113
Version 27.0 Correct Coding Initiative (CCI) Edits
Current as of January 2021
How do I bill for an initial evaluation or re-evaluation?
As of January 1, 2017, PTs and OTs should no longer use the CPT codes 97001, 97002, 97003, and 97004 to bill for initial evaluations and re-evaluations. That’s because these codes have been replaced by a new set of eight evaluative codes: two for re-evaluations and six for evaluations.
But, this isn’t a simple swap-out. That’s because the new codes for initial evaluations are tiered according to the complexity of the evaluation performed. So, PTs and OTs now must determine whether a patient evaluation is low complexity, moderate complexity, or high complexity—and then select the CPT code that correctly represents that level of complexity. Here’s a brief breakdown of the new codes:
Replacement CPT Codes for 97001
Replacement CPT Codes for 97003
Replacement CPT Codes for 97002 and 97004
Looking for more in-depth guidance on how to select the correct level of complexity for each PT or OT evaluation? Check out this blog post, this blog post, and this download.
When should I bill for an evaluation vs. a re-evaluation?
On the surface, the difference between billing an initial eval and a re-evaluation may seem straightforward, but that’s not always the case. Keep reading for three example scenarios to help you make what can occasionally be a challenging decision (adapted from this post by WebPT’s Kylie McKee). For several more examples, check out the post in full.
According to McKee, if a current patient develops a newly diagnosed—yet related—condition, then you’ll want to perform and bill for a re-eval using code 97164. For example, if a high-school soccer player is receiving care for left patellofemoral pain syndrome and develops similar symptoms in his or her right knee, then you would perform (and bill) for a re-eval and update the existing plan of care. After all, as McKee explains, “a re-evaluation is triggered by a significant clinical change in the condition for which the original plan of care was established.” The patient should now be receiving care for bilateral patellofemoral pain syndrome.
If a current patient develops a newly diagnosed—yet unrelated—condition, then you’ll want to perform and bill an initial evaluation. For example, if the same soccer-playing patient who has been receiving care for bilateral patellofemoral pain syndrome shows up with lower back pain related to scoliosis, then you would want to perform and bill for an initial evaluation using codes 97161–97163. After all, “The second, unrelated problem (i.e., with a different body part or body system) may not, in and of itself, result in a change to the original condition.”
If a former patient returns to therapy after discharge and requests care for the same issue you were treating previously, you would most likely perform an initial evaluation using codes 97161–97163. McKee cautions that there isn’t a whole lot of formal guidance on how to handle this scenario, but if it’s been 60 days since the patient received care from you, Medicare requires you to begin a new case. And because you’ve already discharged the patient, it makes sense that you would start over if that patient says, reinjures his or her left rotator cuff and needs your services again. For commercial payers, though, you should defer to the payer’s rules—and, as always, your state practice act.
Should I bill for a re-evaluation each time I complete a progress note?
A typical progress note, even one with functional limitation reporting, does not require a re-evaluation CPT code (97164 or 97168). In fact, you should only ever bill for a re-evaluation if one of the following situations apply:
- The professional assessment indicates a significant improvement or decline or change in the patient’s condition or functional status that was not anticipated in the plan of care for that interval.
- There are new clinical findings.
- The patient fails to respond to the treatment outlined in the current plan of care.
For more detailed information on when and how to bill for a re-evaluation, check out this blog post.
Where can I find the physician fee schedule final rule?
The CY 2023 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule is available available to read here. Or you can check out our recap of final rule changes affecting rehab therapists.
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