THE HILL

Byline: Peter Sullivan 

The Obama administration announced on Monday that it will give doctors a 12-month transition period related to new medical codes that have drawn criticism from some Republican lawmakers as a needless expansion of bureaucracy. 

The deadline for doctors to adopt a new set of codes that identify medical conditions and procedures is Oct. 1. They are known as ICD-10, for the tenth version of the International Classification of Diseases. 

Doctors and others have raises concerns about the time and money it takes to switch over to the new system. Because the codes are linked to doctors’ payments, there have also been concerns that claims could be denied over confusion about them. 

In a move aimed at addressing some of these concerns, the administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced on Monday that for 12 months, Medicare claims will not be denied because doctors used the wrong code, as long as the code is in the correct broad category.

CMS is also teaming up with the American Medical Association to provide webinars, on-site training and other tools to teach doctors about the new codes. It is setting up an ombudsman to deal with concerns. 

The new codes are designed to update terminology to reflect the latest medical knowledge and to allow for more specificity in describing conditions. There are now 68,000 different codes, compared 13,000 in the current ICD-9. 

“We appreciate that CMS is adopting policies to ease the transition to ICD-10 in response to  physicians’ concerns that inadvertent coding errors or system glitches during the transition to ICD-10 may result in audits, claims denials, and penalties under various Medicare reporting programs,” Dr. Steven Stack, president of the AMA, said in a statement. 

The new coding system has drawn some fire from Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have in particular pointed to the difficulties of small and rural providers with fewer resources in coming into compliance with the new codes. 

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) introduced a bill in April that would prevent the federal government from mandating compliance. Another bill has taken a smaller step of pushing for a two-year grace period. 

“The new ICD-10 codes will not make one patient healthier,” Poe said in a statement at the time.  “What it will do is put an unnecessary strain on the medical community who should be focused on treating patients, not implementing a whole new bureaucratic language.”