Medicare, On the Job, Professional Identity

Medical Assistants and Incident-to Billing

What is meant by the statement that the services of a medical assistant must be billed “incident to” the services of the delegating physician for the physician to be reimbursed for the medical assistant’s services under Medicare?

Legally, medical assistants work under direct/onsite provider (e.g., physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant) supervision and authority in outpatient settings. Medical assistants do not have National Provider Identifier (NPI) numbers because they are not reimbursed directly by Medicare for their services. Rather, their services may only be billed and reimbursed incident to the services of the delegating provider.

Note the following from the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual:

Incident to a physician’s professional services means that the services or supplies are furnished as an integral, although incidental, part of the physician’s personal professional services in the course of diagnosis or treatment of an injury or illness. …

Auxiliary personnel means any individual who is acting under the supervision of a physician, regardless of whether the individual is an employee, leased employee, or independent contractor of the physician, or of the legal entity that employs or contracts with the physician. …

Thus, where a physician supervises auxiliary personnel to assist him/her in rendering services to patients and includes the charges for their services in his/her own bills, the services of such personnel are considered incident to the physician’s service if there is a physician’s service rendered to which the services of such personnel are an incidental part.

For more information, see my Public Affairs article from the March/April 2018 CMA Today: “Medicare CCM and TCM Programs: Defining Medical Assistants’ Roles and Services.”

delegation, Medicare, On the Job, Scope of Practice

The Role of Medical Assistants in the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

The role of medical assistants—especially CMAs (AAMA)—in the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) continues to be a topic of interest and inquiry for health care professionals. The latest Public Affairs article attempts to clarify what AWV tasks are and are not delegable to medical assistants. Read “The Role of Medical Assistants in the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit” in the July/August 2018 issue of CMA Today on the AAMA website.

delegation, Medicare, On the Job, Scope of Practice

Medical Assistants and the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

There seems to be some confusion about what a medical assistant is permitted to do in connection with a Medicare Annual Wellness Visit (AWV). Let’s start with a description of a Medicare AWV from the May/June 2015 CMA Today article “Prioritizing Prevention: Medicare’s Annual Wellness Visit”:

The yearly wellness visit provides seniors with a general health-risk assessment that includes screenings for depression, cognitive impairment, and other health concerns. At the visit, health care providers review the patient’s medical and family history, docu­ment vital measurements, such as height, weight, and blood pressure, and update lists of current providers and prescriptions. At the conclusion of the visit, the patient is provided with a personal health plan, including a long-term schedule for future screenings and preventive services.

Note the following document from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), “The ABCs of the Annual Wellness Visit”:

Medicare Part B covers an AWV if performed by a:

  • Physician (a doctor of medicine or osteopathy)
  • Qualified non-physician practitioner (a physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or certified clinical nurse specialist)
  • Medical professional (including a health educator, registered dietitian, nutrition professional, or other licensed practitioner) or a team of medical professionals who are directly supervised by a physician (doctor of medicine or osteopathy)

It is my legal opinion that federal law permits medical assistants to assist licensed health care providers (e.g., MDs/DOs, nurse practitioners, physician assistants) in the performing of an AWV. However, medical assistants are not permitted to perform any part of the AWV that requires the medical assistant to make independent clinical judgments or to make clinical assessments or evaluations.

Affordable Care Act (ACA), EHR Incentive Programs, Meaningful Use, Medicaid, Medicare, Scope of Practice

Congressional Action on the ACA

As our government transitions to a new administration, the following question has become increasingly common:

Would amendments to or repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affect medical assistants’ scope of practice?

The answer? Almost certainly not.  The scope of practice of medical assistants is determined primarily by state law.  An exception is the meaningful use order entry requirements of the Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Program.  The Medicaid Incentive Program was not created by the ACA and would not be impacted by any amendments to or repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  Consequently, it is highly unlikely that the scope of practice for medical assistants will be impacted by congressional action on the ACA.

Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential, Computerized Provider Order Entry (CPOE), EHR Incentive Programs, Meaningful Use, Medicaid, Medicare, On the Job, Scope of Practice

Addressing Recent Concerns About Order Entry

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Blog recently posted these articles dealing with forthcoming changes to the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs:

EHR Incentive Programs: Where We Go Next

Comments of CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt at the J.P. Morgan Annual Health Care Conference, Jan. 11, 2016

In the wake of these pieces, there has been some concern about the potential effects on medical assistants’ ability to enter orders into the computerized provider order entry (CPOE) system for meaningful use purposes. I have addressed these concerns in a memorandum to AAMA leaders. The body of this message is as follows:

January 22, 2016

Within the last 10 days the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued statements about forthcoming changes in the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs (Incentive Programs) required by the passage of the Medicare Access and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Reauthorization Act of 2015, referred to as “MACRA.”

Congress enacted MACRA on April 16, 2015.  This legislation replaces the current meaningful use (MU) payment adjustment provisions with the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), effective January 1, 2019.  According to CMS, MIPS will incorporate some meaningful use elements of the current program and will introduce new elements.

There has been a groundswell of concern that MACRA will do away with the requirement that only third-party-credentialed medical assistants, licensed health care professionals, and third-party-credentialed individuals “who hold a more specific title than ‘medical assistant’ because their duties include only parts of the medical assisting scope of practice, or because of the specialization of the overseeing eligible professional (EP),” are permitted to enter medication, laboratory, and diagnostic imaging orders into the computerized provider order entry (CPOE) system for meaningful use calculation purposes under the Incentive Programs.

In my legal opinion, this concern is not warranted because of the following:

  1. The order entry credentialing requirement of the Incentive Programs was established by CMS rule, not by federal statute.
  2. No provisions of MACRA impact the CMS order entry credentialing requirement.
  3. The legislative history of MACRA does not indicate that Congress was concerned about the CMS order entry credentialing requirement.

CMS regulations implementing MACRA and MIPS are scheduled to be published for comment in 2016.  I do not anticipate that these forthcoming regulations will include any changes to the credentialing requirement of the CMS MU order entry rule.  However, if changes are proposed that could potentially harm patients by lowering the credentialing requirement for medical assistants who enter orders into a CPOE system, the American Association of Medical Assistants will be quick to point this out to CMS decision makers, and to persuade them to maintain or increase the current requirement.