A resolution supporting medical assistants and CMAs (AAMA) was adopted by the House of Delegates of the Indiana State Medical Association (ISMA) in September 2018. The resolution was introduced by William W. Pond, MD. Tammy Daily, CMA (AAMA), liaison to the ISMA from the Indiana Society of Medical Assistants, and I helped craft the final language of the resolution. To read the adopted resolution, access the January/February 2019 Public Affairs article, “ISMA urges Indiana physicians to hire competent medical assistants,” on the AAMA website.
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.”
Inconsistency in the usage of similar-sounding terms related to medical assisting is bound to cause confusion. The following question demonstrates one such instance:
Is there a difference between a medical assistant and a medical office assistant? Health systems in our region seem to use these terms to describe the same category of allied health professional.
Medical office assistant and medical assistant were used interchangeably to describe allied health professionals who are knowledgeable and competent in both clinical and administrative tasks and responsibilities in outpatient delivery settings. This meaning of medical office assistant has become less frequent in recent years, and the vast majority of federal and state statutes and regulations employ the phrase medical assistant.
In certain contexts, medical office assistant describes an individual who performs only administrative tasks in an ambulatory-care setting. Even this usage has become less frequent. Individuals who perform only administrative tasks in an outpatient environment are now more commonly referred to as administrative medical assistants or administrative assistants.
Schools continue to offer educational programs that address only the administrative aspects of medical assisting. Keep in mind that graduates of these programs are not eligible for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination. Only graduates of medical assisting programs accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) that teach both clinical and administrative knowledge, skills, and professional attributes and behaviors—and thus meet the CAAHEP- and ABHES-accreditation standards for medical assisting programs—are eligible for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination.
Here is an interesting question about “levels” of medical assisting:
I work for a very large cardiology practice in North Carolina. Is it permissible to establish tiers of medical assistants based on their skill sets? For example, are we permitted under North Carolina law to have categories such as Medical Assistant I, Medical Assistant II, Medical Assistant III based on the medical assistant’s education, credentialing, and skill sets?
North Carolina law does not forbid employers from establishing tiers or levels of medical assistants. An employer is allowed to determine what elements of knowledge and skill are required for each category of medical assistants and what tasks should be assigned to medical assistants in the respective categories.
However, these levels should not have “CMA” in their titles. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) has intellectual property rights to the phrase “certified medical assistant” and the initialisms “CMA (AAMA)” and “CMA.”
Titling these classifications as Medical Assistant I, II, III is permitted under North Carolina law and does not infringe on the trademark and intellectual property rights of the AAMA. See the State Scope of Practice Laws webpage on the AAMA website to access key state legislative materials pertaining to medical assisting.
I receive fewer questions than I did seven or 10 years ago about the legalities of medical assistants performing limited scope radiography. However, in some states medical assistants are called upon to expose patients to ionizing radiation, as specifically directed by the overseeing/delegating provider.
The legality of this task is governed by state law. In some states unlicensed professionals such as medical assistants are forbidden from doing any limited scope radiography. Only licensed radiologic technologists are permitted to perform radiography. In other states medical assistants are required to complete a short course and pass a test in order to be delegated limited scope radiography. In other states limited scope radiography under direct/on-site provider supervision is not regulated. Physicians are permitted to delegate limited scope radiography to knowledgeable and competent employees.