Federal officials underestimated the costs and time needed to implement the complex new codes for ICD-10, according to a new study released last week on October 14. As a result, laboratories and physician groups can expect to incur significantly higher costs to convert from the current International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9), to ICD-10.

The report by Nachimson Advisors, LLC, estimated that every provider will incur conversion costs in at least six ways. The report detailed and projected these costs for physician groups of small, medium, and large. It calculated that the typical small group of three physicians would incur costs of $83,290 to comply with ICD-10. A typical medium-sized group of 10 physicians would spend $285,195, and a typical large physician practice of 100 providers would spend $2,728,780. These costs include expenses for: 1) education; 2) process analysis; 3) changes to superbills; 4) information technology; 5) documentation; and, 6) cash flow disruption. Detailed coverage of the impending conversion to ICD0-10 is provided in the current issue of The Dark Report that was published on October 20, 2008.

One large laboratory with operations nationwide estimated that it will spend about $40 million to convert to ICD-10, including costs for information technology and staff education. This national lab further stated that implementation of ICD-10 code sets is projected to be twice as expensive as implementing the National Provider Identification (NPI) system that caused severe cash-flow problems for labs earlier this year.

A group of organizations representing physicians and laboratories, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA), commissioned the report. The deadline for compliance with ICD-10 is October 1, 2011, but physician trade groups are lobbying Congress to order the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to delay implementation. One reason the conversion is complicated is because ICD-10 uses 155,000 seven-digit codes, compared to the existing 17,000 codes in ICD0-9. Conversion will be particularly complex for laboratories because of the extensive system changes and the need to train not only staff, but the physicians who refer specimens to the laboratory.

“We have known this transition was going to be a big problem for a few years,” said ACLA President Alan Mertz. “The Nachimson study confirms that belief. ACLA has also consulted with our members and some of the larger labs tell us the costs for transitioning to the new codes and then the ongoing costs to use the new codes will be quite high. It will be costly for lab billing personnel to have to go back to the referring physicians to get the right diagnosis codes.”

Joseph M. Heyman, M.D., Board Chair of the AMA, said, “The AMA is deeply concerned that HHS is rushing head-first into the transition to a complex coding system without fully recognizing the impact on the health care system. Physicians, insurers, medical labs and others are raising the alarm that the costs, documentation and training required by ICD-10 will be significantly greater than HHS now recognizes.”

Medical laboratories and pathology group practices will need to develop a strategy for handling the transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10. Although providers are already pressuring federal health policymakers to delay the October 1, 2011 implementation date for ICD-10, there are many reasons why the United States must move to ICD-10. These reasons are detailed in current issue of The Dark Report.

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