Pathologists and lab directors concerned about training staff to implement the new ICD-10 code sets can relax-but only just a bit! The federal Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) has pushed back the compliance deadline for implementing the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision (ICD-10) code sets. The new implementation deadline of October 1, 2013; replaces the existing deadline of October 1, 2011.

As it announced this extension in implementation of ICD-10 on January 15, HHS also set a date of January 1, 2012, for implementing the so-called X12 standard, Version 5010, for certain electronic health care transactions. Version 5010 is an important prerequisite to adopting ICD-10 and includes updated standards for claims, remittance advice, eligibility inquiries, referral authorization, and other administrative transactions. Version 5010 accommodates the ICD-10 code sets, which are not supported by Version 4010/4010A1, the current X12 standard, HHS said.

These two implementation dates give labs additional time to prepare and train for using the new codes. Labs will find the implementation of ICD-10 to be a costly process, in part because ICD-10 uses 155,000 seven-digit codes, compared with the existing 17,000 codes in ICD0-9. Bloomberg news reported on January 14 that the new codes will be a “nightmare” for healthcare providers.

In a report last year, Nachimson Advisors, LLC, estimated that every provider will incur conversion costs in at least six ways. Organizations representing physicians and laboratories, including the American Medical Association and the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA)  commissioned the report, which projected the ICD-10 implementation costs for small, medium, and large physician groups.

The Nachimson Report 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 $2.7 million. (See “ICD-10 Conversion Costs Underestimated by HHS,” The Dark Report, Oct. 20, 2008.) These costs include expenses for:

1) education;

2) process analysis;

3) changes to superbills;

4) information technology;

5) documentation; and,

6) cash flow disruption

Conversion costs will be even higher for labs. That’s because labs must fund extensive changes in their information systems. Labs will also need to train not only staff, but also referring physicians. One large national lab estimated that it will spend $40 million to convert to ICD-10.

Armed with the knowledge about these high costs to implement ICD-10 and train referring physicians on the new codes, physician groups and ACLA have lobbied Congress to order HHS to delay implementation. HHS received more than 3,000 comments on the ICD-10 proposal, said Kerry Weems, acting administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

“A number of commenters asked for a delay in the compliance dates for both ICD-10 and Version 5010, citing implementation costs, the need to train health care personnel, and to assure ample time for testing between trading partners,” noted Weems. “HHS recognized these concerns and the final rules delay the implementation dates between the proposed and final rules by 21 months for the 5010 standards, and by 24 months for the ICD-10 codes.”

Medical laboratories and pathology group practices should already have a strategy in lace for handling the transition to ICD-10 codes. This two-year extension may be welcome today, but the United States is a full two decades behind the rest of the world in its use of ICD-10 codes. So further delays in ICD-10 implementation beyond 2013 should not be expected.

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