Category: Denials Management

Comprehensive and accurate coding is vital as behavioral and mental health claims are on the rise. We frequently find ourselves progressively adapting to learn nuances with each insurer differently to avoid claim delays or denials. Making improvements accordingly helps make the overall patient experience a lot smoother for the facility’s care team, the engagement with the insurer, and of course the patient’s family.

Nowadays, entities like behavioral health facilities are far more prone to denials and payer audits more than any other medical coverage a patient may have. This puts mental health services at risk as the insurers concentrate on the coding accuracy and things like the duration of services rendered.

The insurance carriers are all about its utilization. They perform plenty of data mining, so all mental health providers regardless what profession they are like psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker, physician, licensed mental health counselor, or non-physician practitioner, all require that documentation be accurate to avoid delay or denial of claims.

What are CPT codes?

For those who are reading this and not familiar with how claims are paid, they all start with a medical code that can be billable to the insurance carriers.

CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) codes are extremely important and are used for payment for services, especially when it is to be reimbursed by the insurance companies. The American Medical Association developed the CPT codes and assigned from surgical to diagnostic codes for medical providers to use for their patients.

What type of documentation do insurance carriers want to see from providers to avoid any scrutiny?

 

  • Patient’s diagnosis. This is critical as the insurance carriers use this information to determine if therapy is medically necessary and if the specific therapy type is warranted. For instance, insurers may question the validity of therapy sessions provided to a patient with a neurological or cognitive deficit or a chronic brain injury when a drug intervention may be more appropriate.
  • Therapy type. Physicians likely provide supportive therapy while other mental health providers may provide an array of options, for example, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, or insight-oriented therapy. This is important when initially verifying coverage and benefits, and specifying therapy type, facility, etc… to ensure it will be a billable service provided.
  • Therapy goals: What treatment plans are set in place for the patient, short and long term?
  • Progress reports: Is the therapy being provided benefiting the patient?
  • Duration of sessions: What is the therapy start and stop times, to the exact minute.

How to know what psychotherapy codes to use?

As of 2013, CPT codes distinguishes between physician and non-physician providers performing psychotherapy services. Physician and Non-physician providers doing psychotherapy services use CPT codes such as 90832, 90836, or 90837, but all are based on the duration of the session. Aside from coding these services accurately, they should always be accompanied with documentation supporting the time spent providing the psychotherapy service.

Coding tips when billing for mental health services.

  • Clearly document the time spent and benefits of the psychotherapy. The carriers want to see that a physician billing for psychotherapy is actually doing a therapeutic intervention. Spending extra time talking with the patient does not translate to a billable psychotherapy service. Generally, insurance carriers are worried about over-use of psychotherapy services, particularly if it appears the patient gets no benefit or shows no progress. If in some cases the patient is resistant to psychotherapy interventions or is not taking sessions to heart, it’s not going to benefit them.
  • Documentation justifies any sessions extending beyond 45 minutes. The carriers want to see and know why time extension was necessary. Without proper supporting documents, claims may receive lower reimbursement or even denial.
  • Use group therapy (CPT code 90853), when appropriate. Group therapy is great for patients because they can meet and talk with others with similar problems and usually looked at as very beneficial. Carriers may also consider patients who go through bereavement counseling during a public tragedy or for a court-ordered group setting counseling session for whatever reason valid to use this code.

Documents that are compliant and accurate coding helps providers in avoiding delays and denials. Staying up to date with best practices seems to be a never-ending task, however,  we are glad we could share some insight with you about the significance of correctly utilizing CPT codes when billing for mental health services.

Did you know that nearly one out of every five Americans had a mental illness last year? Denying coverage is now being looked at deeper than just a financial issue, as some see it as a human rights issue.

Families are suffering from the strict system placed on behavioral health insurance processes. A system that fails the needs of people who need it the most, because of not meeting insurance company’s, medical necessity, clause.

Without a reasonable doubt, this is more than a concern for so many Americans who suffer from behavioral health illnesses and can’t seem to get the adequate treatment needed to overcome this difficult roadblock.

A psychiatrist once said,

“Before I decided to specialize in psychiatry, I assumed a person in need of mental health care would have the same access to treatment one has for medical conditions like kidney stones, pneumonia or seizures. Instead, mental health patients and their providers face a mountain of bureaucratic obstacles that other patients are spared.”

Imagine being a doctor, and having to tell someone or even a child who desperately needs treatment, that they aren’t considered depressed enough, or their presenting conditions do not meet the most critical states of mental illness in order to be treated.

With adolescent mental health illnesses on the rise, this has to be one of the most ignored issues that we face in America today. According to the new report, diagnoses of “Major Depressive Disorder”,  have risen to over 30 percent since 2013, and now affects an estimated 9 million commercially insured Americans.

Teen depression rates are increasing so rapidly, if we don’t figure out a better solution, we will be headed for an array of consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were 72,000 deaths from opioid overdoses last year and more than 43,000 suicides reported in 2017.

Nowadays the requirement to even be admitted into a psychiatric facility is set so high, it can be very frustrating when attempting to get prior authorization for treatment. Even if patients have just attempted suicide, shockingly many insurers still require prior authorization by phone before they can step foot inside of the facility.

“Even in spite of the fact that we’re in the midst of the biggest public health crisis of our time of overdose and suicide, we as a nation have yet to come to grips with this in the way that it needs to be,” – Former congressman and mental health care advocate Patrick Kennedy. 

For any other medical hospitalization, nothing is really required and the insurers trust the judgment of the providers. Not the same for psychiatric hospitalizations and treatment centers. In the U.S., denials for mental health care occur three times as frequently as denials for general medical care.

The process of finding and funding adequate mental health treatment is a very daunting task, and most times insurers will simply deny treatment initially knowing that most people are going through so much that will won’t challenge denials of care, leaving them feeling lost and confused and only adds to the stress they are already dealing with.

It’s time to make mental health illness a priority in not only fighting the stigma but also the discrimination set forth from the insurance companies. This system continues to get worse and totally does everything they can to stop treating those who need it, simply based on the fact that they are not considered depressed enough, or suicidal enough to please their extreme criteria. Ask yourself, why isn’t mental health illnesses being looked at as serious as cancer, diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases?

It’s quite frustrating when just 10 years ago, a law passed called the  Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, also known as the Federal Parity Law. The law requires most insurers to cover illnesses of the brain, such as depression or addiction, no more restrictively than they cover illnesses of the body.

“There are still tons of roadblocks on the policy side and, frankly, in spite of the fact Congress thinks they’ve appropriated some gargantuan amount of money, it still represents less than one-fifth of what we were spending on HIV/AIDS during the AIDS crisis when we were losing far fewer people than we’re currently losing today,” – Patrick Kennedy

In a recent study conducted by a private research company and Georgetown University, researchers found the following listed below.

  • Insurers regularly denied coverage to people with pre-existing mental or substance use conditions;
  • Insurers imposed a 20 to 50 percent increase in premiums for people with a history of mental health or substance use conditions;
  • Insurers offered superficial coverage that did not meet essential needs; and
  • Insurers actively created barriers and limited access to mental health and substance use treatment.

The only way we can see any change is by standing up and speaking out on unjust insurance denials and registering a complaint with your health plan. The more we do this, we can help pressure elected officials, insurance commissioners, and the attorneys general to enforce federal and state parity laws in favor of the patients who need the attention and treatment their insurance plan should be covering.

Nothing will ever change if we don’t speak up and hold insurance companies accountable. We must demand equality for those with mental health and addiction challenges. We cannot stand idly by while insurance companies break the law, at the expense of American families.

Help for Mental Illnesses. Get Immediate Help. If you are in crisis and need immediate support or intervention, call, or go the website of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Have questions or need help with insurance claims and or denials, we are always here to answer or help in anyway possible.

These simple fixes could save thousands of dollars and dozens of headaches. Work them into your billing processes!

Is your treatment center experiencing financial difficulties? There are many billing errors that can cause claims to be denied. Payments being delayed, incurring fines, and revenue loss can all happen due to errors not being caught before submitting claims. So before you start sending your claims out, beware or the most common mistakes.

 

  1. Having a brain lapse and forgetting to verify insurance

Believe it or not, the top reason why most claims are denied is because there was no initial verification of benefits and coverage. We all know insurance can change for whatever reason. So it is crucial that the provider verifies it every time services are rendered. When you don’t verify insurance properly, things like are overlooked like.

  • Members coverage may be terminated
  • The service isn’t even authorized in the first place
  • The plan benefit doesn’t cover the service being rendered
  • The Lifetime Maximum benefit has been met

 

  2. Inaccuracies in the Patient’s File

You would be surprised how something as simple as a patient’s name being misspelled, or having the wrong date of birth, or is this the patient relationship status to the insured correct, also using a policy number that is invalid can cause claims to be denied upfront. However there are some pieces of information that aren’t so clear and easy to notice like.

  • The claim requiring a group number to be entered
  • Making sure the diagnosis code matches with the procedure code
  • If there are multiple insurances, making sure the primary insurance is right for coordination of benefits

You don’t want to have to miss one of these simple pieces of information — making the claim go from say a 1-2 week turnaround, to a 30 to 45 days before the claim is paid.

3. Not using the Correct Diagnosis or Revenue/HCPC Codes on Claim

Like stated above making sure the diagnosis and procedure codes match are very important, but more importantly you want to be sure the codes being used are actually correct. This is how the insurance company knows the symptoms, disorders and how they are being treated by the facility. Incorrect information can result in a immediate denial of the claim for not being medically necessary, or it doesn’t match the authorization given for treatment.

Couple of things to consider as to why the wrong diagnosis or procedure code could be submitted resulting in denial.

  • Your Coding books are out of date and you’re using old protocols that have been revised. They can be pricey but is it really worth losing revenue on avoidable denial errors?
  • You might laugh, but if you handwriting is not up to par and causing claims to be denied because of horrible penmanship, you should really consider switching from paper claims to a electronic submission.

 

4. Duplicate Billing

Duplicate billing is just what it sounds like, billing for the same service or treatment  on more than one claim. It can also be considered as billing for a procedure that wasn’t even performed in the first place. It is very key to perform Chart audits for all patient’s to ensure claims are being billed out correctly. Ultimately you want to try and limit this to none, as facilities are fined each year for these small mistakes and considered as committing fraud. Ouch!

 

5. Misrepresenting Level of Care

This occurs when you the level of care is incorrect in order to receive a higher reimbursement rate from the insurer, also referred to as up-coding. Claims are looked at in fine detail to it’s better to just not do, or once again it will deny and stall the claim payment.

The Secrets to Claims Follow Up

First things first… “Hello Mr. Insurance Company, I need…”

Speedy resolution of your behavioral health facility claims all depends on effective collections follow up. Follow up on all claims should begin as soon as 7 to 10 days after your claim has been submitted to the insurance company.  Pursuing to get claims paid immediately will not only reduce the time you spend on accounts receivable but will also increase cash flow.

A staff well trained in insurance reimbursement protocols as well as negotiating and customer service is imperative in order to have the most efficient revenue cycle management possible. A key indicator of a competent staff is the ability to have crossover expertise in verifying of benefits, claims submissions

Always be well prepared. Research the patient’s account thoroughly to ensure you’re asking the proper questions. You’ll want to have all the information that you will need at your disposal once you get a insurance representative on the phone. Key notes are things like:

  • Date of birth (DOB)
  • Address
  • Policy number
  • Dates of service (DOS)
  • Amounts billed, etc.

It is very important to get as much as information for documentation from the call as possible. Ask the customer service representatives (CSR) information once the call is complete:

  • Name
  • Extension number (some companies use an employee id number),
  • Call reference number

This is critical when making follow up calls on situations that may take more than one call.

But when you can, try to get this information upfront – often times there are random disconnections from the carrier side. Obviously it is easier to pick up where the last call was ended if there is some reference to start from.

The “Ten Commandments of Insurance Billing Questions”

The ultimate objective is to find out if a claim has been processed and if a payment can be expected. A key indicator that there could be a problem is that it has been over a month since a claim was submitted. If this is the case, the CSR should be able to outline what happened and how to rectify the situation in order to get the claim processed. Be sure you are asking enough questions of the right questions. Doing this on every call and you get closer to obtaining payment from the insurance company. I call this the, “Ten Commandments of Insurance Billing Questions.”

  • Can I get an on-shore representative (OSR)?
  • What is the expected payment date?
  • Is the claim through the clearing house, at the payor, in processing?
  • What is the expected allowable amount?
  • What’s all the information on the payment including the check number?
  • Is there an issue with the claim or what is the reason for the lengthy reimbursement process?
  • Why is the claim still processing or “under review” – what are they reviewing?
  • Can I email or fax medical records or do they need to be mailed?
  • Can this claim be expedited – can I speak with a manager?
  • Why is the claim paying so little, is there an issue with pricing?

This is just like anything else in life – you may not be getting the truth. Advocate!

Customer support for most carriers have call time frame quotas that they try to maintain. They will try to get off the phone as soon as they can without prompting you to gather important information from them. You have to be proactive and assertive with your efforts on these claim calls. Make sure you get all the information you called for, and if something is not making sense, hold them accountable to find the answer or get a manager on the line who can.

An example of this is when a claim payment is being delayed or withheld and the customer service representative does know why, or gives you a very invalid reason for it. They will then just send the claim back in for “reprocessing” or send an “inquiry” in on it. This is not sufficient enough because they will then tell you to check back in 30 days to make sure it processed. Obviously no one wants to wait another 30 days to receive reimbursement.

Do not take “no” for answer. Get a manager or supervisor on the phone who can tell you exactly what happened and how it will be rectified.

When you do finally get someone on the line who has some answers, dig deeper. Make sure there are no irregularities with any other claims or payments that may delay the process.

Remember these people you are talking to are just regular people with regular jobs. Do you best to be kind and empathetic while also being assertive. If you can build some understanding and rapport on both sides, often times they will be able to go the extra mile and break their internal protocols to help you out.

What is Next? Well this is where you make it happen!

So step one is done and you have the information needed on the status of the claim to figure out how to proceed from there. The “mess-up” the carrier has done in order to slow down the reimbursement process will determine your next move.

The absolute first check point is to make sure there is an active policy and there were in fact benefits available. Submitting claims without that is a complete waste of time.

    • Claim did not make it through the clearing house and there is nothing in the system.
    • Lack of clinical information – medical records missing.
    • Coordination of Benefits (COB) is needed on the primary insurance plan.
    • Missing demographic or ID information missing from member.
    • Prior authorization is missing or was not obtained upfront.
    • A Referral from a Doctor did not get submitted.
    • Random lack or wrong Information on claim.
    • Medical necessity for RTC level of care is not meeting the criteria of the plan.

Well you may need information or help from the patient?

Patients are trying to get better at this point, it is difficult enough with everything going on to truly make themselves the only priority. Unless you have no other option, don’t go this route.

Here are a few ways to handle this step:

  • Billing the patient or family directly. If you are not able to get anywhere with the insurance carrier as a provider, sometimes the member will have much better luck. Insurance companies offer different customer support (usually more robust) to members compared to the provider side. You can send the bill to them and they can submit it themselves.
  • Have a conversation with the patient on how to self-advocate. If claims are being held up or not paid or denied out right when they should be paying, you can ask the member to call in and attempt to get answers. Give them call dates, billed amounts, reference numbers, and documentation if needed so they can have a more streamlined call. Also give them a heads up on hoops they will have to jump through and some of the tricks to getting the right person on the phone (managers in the US!)
  • Get the patient on a call and then call the insurance provider. Insurance carriers do the best they can and they have multiple systems and customer support departments that all have to interact. Sometimes the member side and the provider side will get contradicting information. There is nothing wrong with getting everyone on the call at the same time and sorting things out.

Frequently Asked Services Questions

 

Verification of Benefits

What is the response time when a facility submits a Verification of Benefits to Axis?

Axis has a team consisting of 9 Claims Representatives that also verify benefits for our facility. As soon as we receive a Verification of Benefits, within minutes a claims representative will be on the phone with the insurance company. We believe in very thorough verification of benefits processes. We will cross reference all information to ensure accuracy before returning the Verification of Benefits to your facility.

On average a thorough Verification of Benefits will take about 45 minutes or less.

What can my facility expect when Axis verifies benefits for a patient?

You can expect the Axis to take every pre-caution to ensure accuracy of benefits for every level of care. We understand how paramount the Verification of Benefits process is to the entirety of billing processes. If the Verification of benefits its not done thoroughly it will have a domino affect for the patients authorizations and billing processes. We not only give you the benefits that were quoted to the Axis team, but we also provide a benefit summary which is more comprehensive.

We also provide additional information on the insurance carrier or policy and let you know what our experience has been with the insurance carrier or the specific policy. We want to make sure you understand the benefits to the fullest in order to best help your patients.

Utilization Review / Authorizations

What is a Utilization Review / Authorization?

There are 2 components of Authorizations. The first is the Pre-authorization, this process is typically done using a very specific format which Axis has refined over the years to cater to the insurance companies needs. When a patient arrives at your facility we request that your clinician fills out the entirety of the pre authorization from which we provide to you.

Once this is complete you will submit the form to the Axis Authorization team and we take it from there. As soon as we receive the authorization from the insurance company, we then notify the representatives at your facility to let them know when we will need a Utilization Review to obtain further authorization.

The Utilization Review is done anywhere from every 3 days up to being on a monthly basis. This is dependent on the level of care in which the patient is at as well as the complexity of each case. We also supply your facility with a Utilization Review template in which your clinicians will fill out and again submit to the Axis Authorizations Team. The authorizations team will then contact the insurance carrier using the provided information and obtain further authorization.

What are the benefits of having your team manage authorizations for our facility?

The Axis authorizations team is comprised of clinicians who are specially trained to work with insurance carriers. They speak the language of the insurance companies and spend countless hours researching and staying up on the changes in the substance abuse and mental health field. They also are very familiar with the medical necessity criteria for each insurance carrier.

This allows the authorizations team to advocate  for your patients and maximize authorizations for your patients.

The Axis authorizations team does not take no for an answer when it comes to helping a patient receive treatment. We have specific policies and procedures that the authorizations team follows to manage any denials and have set a new standard of overturning denials. Above this all of the individuals in our authorizations department are extremely passionate about helping individuals receive the treatment they need.

Claims Processing and Management

How long does it take to receive payments after submitting claims?

The turn around time for claims to be processed and paid is highly dependent on the insurance carrier. Axis made an analysis for the past 6 months and found that the average time it takes to receive payment on a claim is roughly 45 days from the time it is submitted to the insurance company.

Does Axis help with appeals and denials of claims?

Yes, Axis manages all aspects of claims processing including denials management. We have very defined processes for appeals and managing denials. Similar to the authorizations team, we do not accept denials lightly. We  appeal the denials using specific denial management tools to ensure that we are fighting the denial until there is some type of determination. Our staff is specially trained in managing denials and understand the insurance processes thoroughly.

This allows us to successfully overturn many denials and receive payment on claims.

Axis is follows up on all claims every other week. This allows us to catch any problems with claims processing in a very swift manner. While many 3rd party billing companies submit claims and wait for remittance from the health insurance carrier, which can be 30-60 days from the time a claim is submitted, we take a very proactive approach to the claims management processes.

By utilizing our expertise and our diligent approach we will know if a denial happens before any remittance is submitted to your facility as well as have the ability to manage claims on our end without needing to contact your facility to assist with these processes.

 

Parents must EMOTIONALLY advocate, be persistent, be perfect with the details both past and present of the situation (like the parents of those that can’t document for themselves) — and find the right care manager!

As we all know, they are not all created equal and these are HUMAN choices – not policy.

We are advocates for every patient, but we can only be as good as the information (tools) that is provided to us.  We know that every patient is unique and their story and medical background is as well. So what happens if there is a denial?

We will need first get the denial letter. You should also get a copy of your patients plan’s full benefits language, sometimes called the “Evidence of Coverage,” as well as the detailed guidelines that explain what the company considers medically necessary. Some companies, such as Cigna Corp. and Aetna Inc., post their medical policies online.

You will want to prep your families for denials as it is just part of the process.  However, together with you and your families we can work together to make sure that the process ends up in approval of coverage.

So, How much control do you have over denial of your mental health and substance abuse insurance benefits?

The first step you need to do in order to answer this question is to make sure you understand a variety of insurance terms.

Does your patient meet “Medical Necessity”?

  • denials management and substance abuse billngMedical Necessity is a benchmark set by insurance plans used to determine if your programs care is reasonable, necessary, and appropriate for the patient in question.

What is “Utilization Management”?

  • Utilization Reviews are done as a partnership between program clinicians and insurance customer service representatives. These reviews are used as an ongoing measurement to determine what level of care is necessary for patients. The level of care needed must be congruent with accepted medical practice – scientifically proven to be effective.

Why is “Pre-Authorization” so important?

  • This term has many names: prior authoriztion, pre-auth, prior approval, and precertification. This essentially means that the patient must ask for approval before checking into your program. The insurance carriers want to make sure that the patient is in need of a certain level of treatment before they agree to start paying for treatment.

When does “Step Therapy” come into play?

  • Depending on a patients insurance plan benefits, it may be required that they “fail” out of a less costly therapy or drug before they can be eligible for another option.

If you are able to piece this glossary puzzle together – the answer to the above question comes quick. The only thing that has control over a denial of services for any of your patients – is the health and progress of that patient. There is nothing you can do as a substance abuse treatment program, or any behavioral health facility, to keep insurance companies from denying claims.  They are simply following the criteria and policies set down by each individual plans benefits.

What happens if there is a claim that gets denied?

There are many reasons a claim could get denied, and some of those are worthy of an appeal. It could be because of:

  • The patients care needs and  benefits should be awarded the service.
  • Treatment is not taking into consideration other health ailments.
  • You don’t think the insurance company is following entirely under the mental health parity law.

Here is how to address an appeal:

If there is a reason to appeal – strategize a plan of attack and have a goal. Make sure you have reasonable expectations and a lot of patience!

  1. Request a reason for denial from the insurance carrier,
  2. Provide all necessary documentation requested by the carrier for the appeal – could be a history of medical records.
  3. Stay on time! Meet the deadlines put forth by the carrier.
  4. Keep following up until you have an answer.

 

Why do people get into the addiction and mental health treatment industry?

For the most part it is because they have some sort of connection – either personally or a direct relative or friend that has been afflicted by a devastating behavioral health condition.

You can ask 1,000 CEO’s, Owners, and Program Directors and not one of these industry leaders will tell you the primary reason they felt a calling to help people with addiction or mental health issues was because the revenue potential.

With that said – it takes a community to help addicts get better. A community of highly educated, highly skilled and experienced professionals who are dedicated to the well being of others. In a perfect world these pillars of the treatment community would be able to provide their services at little or no cost, however this is not the case – their highly specialized skill set is in high demand by those in need.

The good news is that insurance carriers have plans and benefits that cover both addiction and mental health treatment – and with the Affordable Care Act, more people then ever have the ability to access these benefits.

 

There is a simple math equation here that can show how to drastically increase your rehab facility profits – many families have insurance benefits that can pay for a longer stay – with a much more needed step down in continuum of care – than they can afford to simply pay for out of pocket.

billing insurance for mental healthGet accredited

Implement strong tracking processes

Learn the language of insurance

Communicate internally

Advocate for your patients

Educate your families

To be continued.