Use Modifier 59 Appropriately

on Friday, 30 May 2014. All News Items | Coding | Billing

Appending modifier 59 to a procedure code on an outpatient claim may result in Medicare payment when the code would not have received payment without the modifier. This is a good thing if the modifier is used appropriately for the correct circumstances. But modifier 59 is often misused and this could be a compliance concern for your hospital. Understanding CCI edits and correct modifier usage is critical for compliant billing.

The healthcare industry has been dealing with the National Correct Coding Initiative policy (NCCI or CCI) and edits for over 15 years now, but correct billing and modifier usage continues to be difficult and confusing for a lot of providers. One of the most commonly used and misused modifiers is modifier 59 which identifies a distinct procedural service. In fact misuse of this modifier is such a problem, that CMS has repeatedly provided education, clarification, and examples on the proper use of modifier 59. Last week, they released a new MLN Matters Article, SE1418 that again clarifies the appropriate use of modifier 59.

First, let’s look at some general information about the CCI edits:

  • They were developed to promote national correct coding methodologies and to control improper coding leading to inappropriate payment in Part B claims
  • They are based on coding conventions defined in the American Medical Association's CPT Manual, national and local policies and edits, coding guidelines developed by national societies, analysis of standard medical and surgical practices, and a review of current coding practices.
  • The NCCI edits are updated quarterly and the NCCI Policy Manual is updated annually. The policy manual explains the rationale for the edits, the correct usage of modifiers, and specific policies for certain code pairs.
  • The edits began in 1996 for Part B claims, and in 2000 for hospital claims. The Part B and hospital edits are not exactly the same.
  • Procedure-to-Procedure (PTP) edits define when two HCPCS/CPT codes should not be reported together either in all situations or in most situations.
  • A Correct Coding Modifier Indicator (CCMI) of “0” indicates the two codes should never be reported together by the same provider for the same patient on the same day of service. A CCMI of “1” indicates the codes may be reported together only in defined circumstances which are identified on the claim by the use of specific NCCI-associated modifiers.

“Modifier 59 is used to identify procedures/services, other than E/M services, that are not normally reported together, but are appropriate under the circumstances. Documentation must support a different session, different procedure or surgery, different site or organ system, separate incision/excision, separate lesion, or separate injury (or area of injury in extensive injuries) not ordinarily encountered or performed on the same day by the same individual.” Modifier 59 should only be used if there is not another modifier that could be used to explain the circumstances. Modifier 25, not 59, is used to indicate separate and distinct Evaluation and Management (E/M) services.

The article contains a lot of information about the correct use and inappropriate uses of modifier 59. Providers should carefully review the complete article to fully understand how to use this important modifier. Some of the common uses of modifier 59 described in the article include:

  • Different anatomic sites, which includes different organs and in some cases, different lesions in the same organ. However, since CCI edits are to prevent the inappropriate billing of lesions and sites that should not be considered to be separate and distinct, modifier 59 should only be used to identify clearly independent services that represent significant departures from the usual situations. The treatment of contiguous structures in the same organ or anatomic region does not constitute treatment of different anatomic sites, for examples nails, nails beds and adjacent soft tissue; posterior segment structures of the eye; and adjoining areas in the same shoulder.
  • Different patient encounters on the same day. One huge issue here is how a patient encounter is defined. Recently an NCCI coding specialist clarified that “encounter” as used in the new NCCI paragraph concerning the use of CPT code 94640 for respiratory treatment represents direct personal contact in the hospital between a patient and a physician or other healthcare professional. In other words, there may be several different encounters with a patient during a day of an extended care episode. For CPT 94640 multiple encounters on the same date of service are reported with modifier 76, but there are codes where modifier 59 would be the appropriate modifier for different encounters on the same day. Beware that this definition of “encounter” may not apply to all CCI edits or be accepted by all Medicare contractors.
  • Sequential “timed code” services – this generally refers to rehabilitative therapy services which are defined in 15 minutes intervals. If the therapy services are provided sequentially for a different 15 minute interval, then modifier 59 is appropriate.
  • A diagnostic service that proceeds a therapeutic service if “(a) it occurs before the therapeutic procedure and is not interspersed with services that are required for the therapeutic intervention; (b) it clearly provides the information needed to decide whether to proceed with the therapeutic procedure; and (c) it does not constitute a service that would have otherwise been required during the therapeutic intervention.” The example given is angiography preceding a revascularization if the circumstances noted above are met.
  • A diagnostic procedure subsequent to a completed therapeutic procedure only when the diagnostic procedure is not a common, expected, or necessary follow-up to the therapeutic procedure. For example, a chest x-ray after a chest tube insertion to verify placement is not appropriate for modifier 59, but a chest x-ray after a chest tube insertion when the patient experiences unexpected complications is appropriate for modifier 59.

One interesting paragraph in the article describes a common misuse of modifier 59 relating to the portion of the definition describing “a different procedure or surgery.” According to the article, providers should not use modifier 59 to by-pass a CCI edit based on the two codes being “different procedures” unless the two procedures are performed at separate anatomic sites or at separate patient encounters on the same date of service. Please refer to the exact wording in the article for a clear understanding of this instruction.

Getting the correct modifiers on the correct code is not as easy as it sounds. In the hospital setting, this often involves billers, coders, and the relevant hospital departments. It also includes a financial and compliance aspect. Hospitals need a well-planned approach in dealing with CCI edits and their impact on billing and reimbursement.

Article by Debbie Rubio

Debbie Rubio, BS, MT (ASCP), is the Manager of Regulatory Affairs and Compliance at Medical Management Plus, Inc. Debbie has over twenty-seven years of experience in healthcare including nine years as the Clinical Compliance Coordinator at a large multi-facility health system. In her current position, Debbie monitors, interprets and communicates current and upcoming regulatory and compliance issues as they relate to specific entities concerning Medicare and other payers. You may contact Debbie at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This material was compiled to share information. MMP, Inc. is not offering legal advice. Every reasonable effort has been taken to ensure the information is accurate and useful.

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