physical therapist modifier codes

Mastering Modifier Codes: A Guide for Physical Therapists

18 June 2023

June 18, 2023

In: Therapy Billing

discussing modifier codes

Highlights

  • Modifier codes play a crucial role in providing additional information to health insurance companies when diagnosis and procedure codes alone aren’t sufficient for processing and reimbursing claims.
  • The NCCI Edits list identifies pairs of CPT codes that can’t be billed on the same day without the use of a modifier.
  • Physical therapists must use modifier -59 when a patient receives two services on the NCCI edits list on the same day to indicate that the services were performed during the same visit right after one another.
  • Key PT billing modifiers include modifier -22 for increased procedural services, modifier 52 for reduced services, modifier -59 for distinct services, modifier 95 for telehealth treatment, and modifier 96 for habilitative services.
  • Level II HCPCS modifiers provide additional specificity when the code descriptor alone is insufficient, with preferred alternatives to modifier -59 including -XE, -XS, -XP, and -XU.
  • The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and CMS have identified certain services that can be performed and paid for without the need for modifier -59, including specific combinations of CPT codes for re-evaluation, evaluations, and various therapy activities.

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced physical therapist, understanding modifiers is essential for efficient and accurate billing. These codes provide vital information to health insurance companies, helping them process and reimburse claims accurately. 

This article aims to be your comprehensive guide, simplifying the complex world of Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code modifiers in physical therapy. We’ll cover everything from modifier -22 to modifier -96, explore Level II Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) modifiers, and finally, discuss instances where modifier -59 isn’t required.

Understanding Therapy Modifiers

Modifier codes provide additional information to health insurance companies when diagnosis and procedure codes alone are insufficient for processing and reimbursing your claims. The NCCI (National Correct Coding Initiative) Edits list identifies pairs of CPT codes that cannot be billed on the same date of service without using a modifier.

For instance, if a patient receives manual therapy (code 97140) and therapeutic activities (code 97530) on the same day, modifier -59 must be appended to one of these codes to indicate that the services were distinct and performed consecutively during the same visit. 

Physical therapists often use the following PT billing modifiers:

  • Modifier 22: Denotes increased procedural services. It’s used when the work involved in a patient’s treatment significantly exceeds the usual effort. 
  • Modifier 52: Indicates reduced services. It’s used for a shorter treatment or service.
  • Modifier 59: Specifies a service distinct from any other service provided by the physical therapist.
  • Modifier 95: Used for telehealth treatment, it refers to real-time virtual interaction between the patient and the healthcare provider.
  • Modifier 96: Indicates habilitative services which assist patients in acquiring or maintaining skills for daily living.

Exploring Level 2 HCPCS Modifiers

Level II HCPCS modifiers provide additional information about a particular item or service when the code descriptor alone isn’t sufficient. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) oversee the HCPCS billing codes used in Medicare claims.

Level II HCPCS modifiers offer additional specificity when the code descriptor alone is not sufficient. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) oversee the HCPCS billing codes used in Medicare claims, and they require providers to submit therapy modifiers along with the HCPCS code PT for outpatient physical therapy services. 

Four preferred alternatives to modifier -59 include:

  • -XE: Describes separate services on the same date.
  • -XS: Signifies a separate anatomical structure.
  • -XP: Indicates a separate practitioner performed a distinct service.
  • -XU: Denotes an unusual service.

Other noteworthy Level II HCPCS modifiers include:

  • -GP: Physical therapy services provided under an outpatient plan of care
  • -CQ: Outpatient physical therapy provided by a physical therapist assistant
  • -KX: Patients who have reached their maximum physical therapy limit for the year

CPT Codes That Don’t Require Modifier -59

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and CMS have created a list of services that don’t require modifier -59, allowing certain combinations of CPT codes to be performed and paid for without the need for this modifier. 

  • CPT code 97164: Re-evaluation of physical therapy established plan of care with 97110, 97112, 97113, 97113, 97116, 97140, 97150, and 97530
  • CPT codes 99281 to 99285: Reporting evaluation and management services in the emergency department with CPT codes 97161 to 97168 for physical and occupational therapy evaluations
  • CPT codes 97161 to 97163: Physical therapy evaluations with CPT code 97140 for manual therapy
  • CPT code 97140: Manual therapy with CPT code 97530 for therapeutic activities
  • CPT code 97530: Therapeutic activities with CPT code 97113 for aquatic activities

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

Physical therapy involves a detailed and intricate billing process. Understanding and correctly using modifier codes are integral to ensuring accurate and timely reimbursement for your services. This guide has provided an overview of commonly used CPT-code modifiers and Level II HCPCS modifiers, aiming to simplify and clarify their use.

To further enhance your coding expertise, we recommend exploring other blogs in our CPT Coding for Physical Therapists series. For more coding insights and practical guidance, download our free eBook, “Comprehensive Guide to Physical Therapy CPT Codes,” below. 

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