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Ever Feel Like Your Billing Policy Is Backfiring?

This practice does. How can they get back on track?

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IN FOCUS VISION CARE, a private practice in Olive Branch, MS, was adding a new billing manager to the office. Sean had four years of experience submitting optometry claims and 12 years billing for a physical therapist; this would be his first position as a supervisor. Erin was office manager and spent a lot of time training Sean during his first few weeks. After lunch on his third day, Erin brought Sean to the conference table and spread out several documents.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NATALIE TAYLOR is owner of Artisan Eyewear in Meredith, NH. She offers regional private practice consulting and ABO/COPE approved presentations. Email her at [email protected]

“I’ve delayed going over Medicare but I think it’s time,” Erin began. “We made a decision that doesn’t really seem to be panning out for us, so you and I need to work with the doctors to edit our protocol.”

Sean was intrigued. “I’ve always known Medicare to be straight-forward. What’s happening?”

Erin pulled one of the documents toward Sean: an EHR-generated pie chart. “As I mentioned earlier, 44% of our comprehensive exams in the last five years have been Medicare exams. Eighteen months ago we saw a major increase in Replacement plans.”

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Sean nodded. “Right, patients on Medicare can buy a hardware benefit. I’ve seen this advertised on television.”

“Well, the plans these patients pay for also include a well-visit.”

“The doctor I used to work for always sent the exam to Medicare. I understand these plans to be for optometrists to ‘identify – don’t treat.’ Elderly patients usually have a medical diagnosis and require actual care.”

“I agree with you. Their comprehensive exams are, on average, too complex to bill to these kinds of plans — not to mention the significant difference in reimbursement!”

“So what’s the issue?” Sean asked.

“Several patients complained, first to our doctors and then to me, that they wanted to use the services they had purchased. Most of the patients I spoke to were in their early 60s and relatively new to Medicare. One patient even went to our local newspaper and got a reporter involved. ‘Potentially deceptive practices.’ We were pushed into the spotlight.” She sighed, pulling the newspaper clipping out of the pile towards Sean. “We did what we thought was best at the time: the doctors only do a refraction and the minimum level required for the Replacement plan, delay all patient counseling and education, then schedule a comprehensive visit using Medicare for a few weeks later.”

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Sean nodded. “That sounds reasonable. The patient uses both plans and I imagine at the second exam you skip the refraction and only collect the 20% co-insurance?”

“Yes, but the problem is most patients are no-showing to those exams, or canceling last minute and never rescheduling. We’re now seeing these initial patients pass the 12-month mark and call to book again. One doctor believes as long as we document carefully and have a signed consent that each patient understands the difference between the well-visit and a comprehensive exam, it’s the patient’s right to select their level of care. The other doctor told me she plans to refuse well-visits for patients who skipped their Medicare-level exams last year, because she doesn’t think a piece of paper will protect us from the consequences of subpar health care.”

Sean drummed his fingers on the table. “I think I need to do a little research before bringing my professional recommendation to the doctors,” he said.

The Big Questions

  • How would you have solved this dilemma if it was your practice criticized in a newspaper?
  • If your parent/grandparent was a patient at this practice and wanted to use a Medicare Replacement plan, which doctor would you side with?
  • Would your own protocol be affected if your Medicare base was only 10%? How about 80%?

Real Deal Responses

John M.Victoria, TX

I recommend the practice stop participating in the Medicare advantage plan and see patients that have regular Medicare.

Nina C.North Chesterfield, VA

This is hard. I would like to do the wellness on the vision plan, but Medicare patients have more complex ocular situations than most. We have a large Medicare group. Most will not return for the Medicare exam and liability is such that I cannot give a “lesser vision exam.” We tell patients when making the appointment and again on checking in that we are Medicare providers and will be filing Medicare. We will be collecting refraction fees unless the patient has a vision plan that coordinates benefits to cover refraction. We can use their material benefit towards glasses or CLs. Those who disagree never make an appointment or leave. If the optometrist was to forsake filing Medicare, we would soon be dropped as physician providers.

Rigo L.Indio, CA

Newspaper! Who reads a newspaper nowadays? Anyways, it could have been worse with social media or TV. Patients with Medicare usually require extra time and visits and they think Medicare works the same everywhere. I have seen offices take Replacement plans with Medicare only if they have a vision insurance plan and refer out for medical exam or not take Medicare at all if it’s a Replacement plan. Well visits don’t do much for a patient and most of the time they need comprehensive exams or medical during an office visit. That being said, I would change protocol for the Medicare patients to only see them for comprehensive or office visits. I make that clear when the appointment is made. Having a good relationship with MDs and co-managing patients works best.

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Maureen G.Oak Park, IL

I see the problem as one of a lack of educating the patient. Our office sees maybe 10 percent Medicare patients, but the doctor takes time to explain so the patient understands the importance of the medical visit. We have few if any patients that do not schedule a medical visit. And it has to be the doctors doing the explaining, not a manager or technician. Patients will listen to a doctor more than anyone else.

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If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. eyecare business serving the public, you’re invited to join the INVISION Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting eyecare professionals. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Natalie Taylor is an experienced optometry practice manager for Advanced Care Vision Network and a consultant with Taylor Vision. Learn more at tayloreye.com.

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