June 6, 2024 | Net Health

8 min read

Understanding NCCI and NCCI Edits in Healthcare

The healthcare industry is a complex ecosystem where accurate documentation, coding, and compliance are essential in ensuring resources and payments are properly allocated. The National Correct Coding Initiative (NCCI), which developed and implemented NCCI edits, plays a pivotal role in this process.

NCCI was established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in 1996 to promote correct coding methodologies and prevent improper coding practices that can lead to incorrect payments. Through its comprehensive set of national correct coding methodologies, policies, and edits, NCCI aims to improve the accuracy of claims processing and ultimately reduce healthcare costs.

In this post, we will further explain the purpose of the NCCI, the significance of NCCI edits, how they improve healthcare processes, and why they are crucial for healthcare providers.

What is the National Correct Coding Initiative?

NCCI was created to ensure that healthcare providers adhere to standardized coding practices, there by enhancing the accuracy of claims processing and reducing the risk of payment errors in Medicare and Medicaid claims.

The initiative includes a set of coding policies and edits designed to control coding errors and reduce inefficiencies, making it a critical component of the healthcare reimbursement process.

Before the establishment of the NCCI, healthcare faced significant challenges involving improper payment and coding. These challenges included unbundling, where individual components of a service are billed separately rather than using a single, comprehensive code. Such practices lead to payment errors, inefficiencies, and increased healthcare costs.

Recognizing a need to address these issues, along with rising healthcare costs and a mandate to ensure the proper use of federal funds, CMS was compelled to develop a solution. Thus, NCCI was born to promote national correct coding methodologies and control and prevent improper payment and coding practices.

NCCI Edits: The Backbone of Coding Initiatives

Edits are automated payment edits developed by coding experts who review medical literature, current coding practices, and clinical guidelines. The process involves identifying services commonly reported together and determining whether they should be bundled or if limits should be set on their reporting.

When a healthcare provider submits a claim, NCCI edits are applied automatically during the claims adjustment process. Claims that violate edits are flagged for denial or review, prompting providers to correct their coding before resubmission and eventual payment.

Edits are reviewed and updated quarterly to reflect changes in medical practice, coding guidelines and standards, and policy updates. CMS provides updates through the National Correct Coding Initiative Policy Manual for Medicare Services and the quarterly NCCI edit files.

The creation of NCCI and its edits has resulted in a number of benefits, including:

Improved Accuracy

One of the primary benefits is a vast improvement in the accuracy of Medicare and Medicaid payments. By enforcing correct coding practices, NCCI ensures that claims are processed correctly the first time, reducing the likelihood of errors that can lead to payment delays or denials.

Accurate coding not only streamlines the billing process but also fosters trust between healthcare providers and payers.

Reduced Healthcare Costs

NCCI plays a vital role in controlling healthcare costs by preventing improper coding. When medical services used are accurately coded, it eliminates the possibility of overpayments and inappropriate billing, ensuring that federal funds are used appropriately and efficiently.

This cost control measure helps to sustain the financial health of Medicare and Medicaid programs, which are critical to providing healthcare services to millions of Americans.

Compliance

Ensuring compliance with national coding standards and policies is critical for rehab therapy practitioners. By adhering to these standards, healthcare providers can reduce the risk of claim denials and audits, which can be both time-consuming and costly.

Compliance with edits also means that providers are less likely to face legal or financial penalties, promoting a more stable and predictable financial environment.

Education

By promoting a better understanding of correct coding practices, these edits help reduce the likelihood of errors and enhance the overall quality of care provided. Continuous education and adherence to NCCI program guidelines ensure that providers are up to date with the latest coding standards and practices, fostering a culture of perpetual improvement and excellence in the healthcare industry.

What are the Types of NCCI Edits?

Two main types of NCCI edits exist to ensure correct coding and prevent improper or inappropriate payment for healthcare services: Procedure-to-Procedure (PTP) Edits and Medically Unlikely Edits (MUEs). Here is a breakdown of each.

Procedure-to-Procedure Edits

PTP or PTP pair edits, define pairs of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedure Terminology codes (CPT® codes) that should not be reported together. They are crucial for maintaining the integrity of medical billing by preventing the unbundling of services.

Unbundling for Medicare Part B services occurs when separate codes are used for components of a procedure that should be billed together under a single, comprehensive code. NCCI PTP edits oversee the standardization of:

  • Bundled Services. Services that are typically performed together are billed as a single comprehensive service rather than as separate CPT® codes.
  • Component Services. When a comprehensive procedure code is available, component services are not billed separately.

For example, if a surgery includes both the main procedure and related preparatory work, the preparatory work should not be billed separately if it is part of the comprehensive procedure code.

Medically Unlikely Edits

MUEs address the overutilization of services by limiting the units of service that a provider would typically report for a single beneficiary on a single service or treatment date. These edits help ensure:

  • Appropriate Utilization. Providers bill for a reasonable number of services based on clinical standards and typical medical necessity.
  • Fraud Prevention. By capping the number of billable units, MUEs help prevent fraudulent billing where services are over-reported to increase reimbursement.

For example, an MUE might limit the number of times a specific lab test can be performed on a patient in one day, ensuring that only medically necessary tests are billed.

NCCI Implementation and Compliance

To effectively implement NCCI edits, healthcare providers must stay informed about the latest updates and changes. CMS updates the NCCI Policy Manual and edits quarterly, reflecting new coding conventions defined by standards, clinical guidelines, and policy updates. Staying abreast of these updates is important for maintaining compliance and optimizing the billing process.

Providers should take the following steps to ensure proper implementation and adherence to NCCI edits.

Regularly Review Updates

Staying current with NCCI program updates is essential for compliance with coding standards. CMS quarterly updates include modifications based on the latest clinical practices, policy changes, and coding standards.

Providers should establish a system for regularly reviewing these updates, ensuring that their coding practices reflect the most current coding guidelines developed. This can be achieved by subscribing to CMS updates, attending industry webinars, and participating in professional coding organizations that provide timely information on NCCI program changes.

By keeping up-to-date, healthcare providers can avoid common pitfalls and ensure that their billing practices are aligned with the latest standards.

Stay Educated About Changes

Investing in regular training and education for coding staff is paramount in keeping with high standards of accuracy and compliance. Continuous education ensures that coders are proficient in the latest edits and understand the rationale behind them.

Providers should offer ongoing training sessions, workshops, and seminars that cover new updates, common coding errors, and best practices for compliance. Utilizing resources such as coding certification programs, professional development courses, and in-house training modules can help coders stay informed and proficient.

By fostering a culture that prioritizes education, healthcare organizations can enhance the skills of their staff, reduce coding errors, and improve overall billing efficiency.

Implement Internal Audits

Conducting internal audits is a proactive approach to identifying and correcting coding errors before claims are submitted. Regular audits help ensure compliance by uncovering discrepancies and areas where coding practices may deviate from established guidelines.

Implement a structured audit process, which includes routine checks of a random sample of claims to assess coding accuracy and adherence to edits. Audits can be performed by internal staff or by engaging external auditors with expertise in medical coding.

The findings from these audits can be used to provide targeted feedback and training to coding staff, addressing any identified issues and reinforcing correct coding practices. By systematically auditing their billing processes, healthcare providers can mitigate the risk of claim denials, reduce the likelihood of audits by payers, and enhance overall compliance.

Leverage Technology

Advancements in technology can greatly assist in the implementation and compliance with NCCI edits. Modern electronic health record (EHR) systems and practice management software often include built-in coding tools that automatically apply edits during the coding process. These tools can flag potential coding issues before claims are submitted, allowing for corrections and ensuring compliance.

Additionally, commercial computer software solutions can provide real-time updates on coding changes and integrate computer software seamlessly with existing billing systems.

Providers should consider investing in technology that supports accurate coding and compliance, as it can streamline the billing process, reduce administrative burden, and improve overall efficiency.

Establish Compliance Protocols

Establish clear policies and procedures that outline the steps for coding, reviewing, and using documentation supports when submitting claims. These protocols should include guidelines for handling updates, conducting internal audits, and addressing coding discrepancies. Compliance protocols should be documented and readily accessible to all staff involved in the billing process. Regular reviews and updates to these protocols are necessary to reflect changes in edits and coding standards.

By establishing and maintaining comprehensive compliance protocols, healthcare providers can ensure consistency in their coding practices and reduce the risk of errors.

Engage in Continuous Improvement

Regularly evaluate coding practices, training programs, and audit processes to identify opportunities for improvement. Feedback from coding staff, audit findings, and changes in coding standards should be used to refine and enhance compliance efforts. Encouraging open communication and collaboration among coding teams can foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

By committing to ongoing evaluation and enhancement of their coding practices, healthcare providers can stay ahead of regulatory changes and maintain high standards of compliance.

The benefits of NCCI’s automated prepayment edits are far-reaching, impacting the accuracy, cost efficiency, compliance, and educational aspects of healthcare billing. By integrating these edits into their billing practices, providers can enhance their operational efficiency, contribute to the sustainability of CMS programs, and deliver better patient care.

NCCI Edits Impact Many Aspects of Rehab Therapy

By staying informed about the latest updates, investing in training and education, and leveraging technology, providers can maintain high standards of coding accuracy and compliance, ultimately improving the quality of care and the efficiency of the healthcare reimbursement process.

Share this post

Subscribe and See More