Federal mandates to add thousands of new codes to get reimbursed by Medicare



Struck by a killer whale? Bit by a turtle or mouse? All are included in a new medical coding system doctors must use to get reimbursed by Medicare and insurance companies.

It's a move critics said will cost taxpayers and patients in the end.

This new medical system has nothing to do with President Barack Obama's health care plan.

Federal officials said they needed to update the system because the detection of new diseases is moving at light speed.

Channel 2's Lori Geary looked through the pages of new codes and found some strange listings.

They include getting bitten by an alligator, being struck by a sea lion or being injured by walking into a lamppost.

The new codes also cover people injured by coming into contact with nonvenomous plant thorns, spines and sharp leaves.

There are three different codes for the first time an injury happens, a second time it occurs and a third for multiple encounters.

Heather Flemming is the administrative assistant responsible for coding at the Perimeter Clinic on Roswell Road in Buckhead.

When the federal mandate goes into effect next year, her medical office and every one across the country will have to use the new codes or risk not getting reimbursed.

"Now we're going to have to spend more money to hire someone else to help with the coding," Flemming said. "That's kind of silly. But I can't do it on my own when I have too many codes."

Under the current system, there are 13,000 codes. When the change happens in October 2014, there will be nearly 70,000 codes.

Among the others Geary found, three separate codes for getting hit in the head with a basketball. There also are three codes for being struck by a dog.

There's a separate code if you're injured by coming into contact with a dog's feces.

Doctor's office will have to deal with 9 nine different codes for people pecked by a chicken, struck by a chicken or injured by coming into contact with a chicken.

"Are you kidding me? Nine different codes for a chicken coop accident? Either you got cut, fell or got bruised," Georgia U.S. Rep. Doug Collins said.

Collins said he's considering supporting a bill introduced by his colleague Ted Poe of Texas, which would do away with the mandate to implement the codes.

"We're talking about what I believe is the best healthcare system in the world, and we're constantly chipping away at it," Collins added.

Dr. Agnes Kovacs of the Perimeter Clinic said she's worried about the extra cost for software upgrades and training. She's also concerned about the extra time she'll have to spend on paperwork.

"If I have to spend more time figuring out the codes because it's more specific, then I will have less time for the patient," said Kovacs.

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