Billing for a Medicare Annual Wellness Visit: Codes G0438 and G0439

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Billing for Medicare Annual Wellness Visit
by Lucy Lamboley

The importance of using preventive medicine to improve the health and ultimately lives of patients is widely recognized. The Medicare annual wellness visit (AWV) plays an important role in helping Medicare beneficiaries stay current with their health and take actions that can prevent illness and reduce risk.

An essential piece of the process required to ensure offering and providing preventive services remains financially viable is for organizations to complete the Medicare annual wellness visit reimbursement coding process accurately. Doing so can help ensure providers receive their earned reimbursements and protect them against possible penalties they might incur from failed coding audits. We know some organizations struggle with meeting compliance requirements set forth by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

In this blog post, we take a look at what's required for compliant AWV coding. While this is by no means a comprehensive guide to Medicare annual wellness visit reimbursement, it provides organizations with information that can assist them in avoiding some of the most common AWV coding mistakes that result in rejected claims, lost revenue, or failed audits — all of which can be mitigated when using Prevounce software. 

Three Unique Annual Wellness Visit Codes: G0402, G0438, and G0439

Medicare preventive wellness visits fall into three categories; the "Welcome to Medicare" visit, also known as the Initial Preventive Physical Exam (IPPE); the initial annual wellness visit, and the subsequent annual wellness visits. Each has its own Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) code that must be used in the right circumstances and proper order. 

Understanding HCPCS G0402

During the first 12 months a patient is enrolled in Medicare, they are eligible for the Welcome to Medicare visit or IPPE. This is a one-time visit that includes vital measurements, a vision screening, a depression screening, and other assessments meant to gauge the health and safety of an individual patient. This visit must be coded using HCPCS G0402. Once a patient has been enrolled for more than 12 months, the G0402 code will be rejected regardless of whether the IPPE visit previously took place or not.

Understanding HCPCS G0438

After a patient has been enrolled in Medicare for 12 months, they become eligible for an annual wellness visit. Note: If you need assistance with identifying eligible patients, get this AWV quick guide.

If the Medicare beneficiary had an IPPE completed, the patient is eligible for the initial AWV on the first day of the same calendar month the following year. An AWV is similar to the IPPE but includes slightly different required and accepted screenings. This initial AWV must be coded using HCPCS G0438. 

Understanding HCPCS G0439

HCPCS G0439 is used to code all subsequent Medicare annual wellness visits that occur after the initial AWV (G0438). So, if used correctly, G0439 would not be used until G0402 was used to code the IPPE and G0438 was used to code the initial AWV. In the case that an IPPE was never completed, G0439 would still be used for any subsequent visits after G0438. 

Purpose of Multiple Annual Wellness Visit HCPCS Codes

Though G0402, G0438, and G0439 are commonly confused, the reason for needing three separate codes is pretty straightforward. It is assumed that the different types of visits take different amounts of resources, and so they are reimbursed at different rates.

For example, the initial annual wellness visit is used to collect the library of information that will be continually updated with each subsequent AWV. As a result, the HCPCS G0438 code is reimbursed at a rate that is nearly 50% higher than HCPCS G0439. So if an organization regularly misses using the G0438 code for an initial Medicare AWV and uses G0439 instead, it could mean numerous denials and a significant loss of revenue. 

Additional AWV HCPCS and CPT Codes

In addition to the primary annual wellness visit codes (G0402, G0438, and G0439), a select list of other codes may be billed for services performed during a Welcome to Medicare visit or AWV. When using any of these codes, a separate note is required to support each rendered service. 

It is important to understand that many of these codes have specific guidelines that require them only to be used with specific visits after meeting certain criteria. For example, HCPCS G0444, which designates a 15-minute annual depression screening, may only be included with subsequent wellness visits billed under G0439. If that specific code is used with the IPPE or initial AWV, it will be rejected as invalid. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening, coded as G0389, may only be performed with the IPPE code G0402. It is not approved for annual wellness visits. 

Advance care planning (CPT 99497) is considered an optional element of the annual wellness visit, which includes a discussion with the patient about their advance care wishes and advance directive. Advance care planning, also referred to as ACP, is considered a preventive service (and thus has its co-pay waived) when billed on the same day as an AWV with modifier -33.

HCPCS G0442 and HCPCS G0443 are additional codes that must be used in conjunction with each other to be valid. G0442 is used for an annual alcohol screening, which should take approximately 15 minutes. G0443 is for 15-minute sessions of alcohol counseling. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the screening service must take place before a counseling service is approved. In other words, if G0443 is used and there are no claims for G0442 in the preceding 12 months, the screening code will be denied. 

Fifteen-minute obesity counseling sessions may be billed in conjunction with IPPE visits or annual wellness visits using HCPCS G0447. This service includes dietary assessments and behavioral counseling, but a patient must have a body mass index of thirty or above to qualify.

If you ever have a wellness visit that takes a particularly long time, there is also a set of add-on codes you can use. HCPCS G0513 and HCPCS G0514 are "prolonged preventive service codes" that can be used when a service takes 30 minutes (G0513) or 60-plus minutes (G0514) past the typical duration of the service.

Staying Current With Annual Wellness Visit Coding Requirements 

To avoid risking an audit, it is essential to stay up to date on coding requirements associated with Medicare annual wellness visits as they undergo occasional revisions. For example, in the 2023 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) final rule, two preventive services had their HCPCS code descriptors modified. HCPCS G0442 was changed to "Annual alcohol misuse screening, 5 to 15 minutes" and HCPCS G0444 was changed to "Annual depression screening, 5 to 15 minutes." The codes currently require a minimum of 15 minutes of services. Such coding revisions and sometimes replacement is relatively common, and utilizing incorrect codes will lead to denied claims.

With changing guidelines and eligibility requirements, the task of coding correctly to better ensure proper reimbursement on preventive health visits can prove challenging for business office staff. But without the necessary revenue, organizations may struggle to support the delivery of preventive health services, which could negatively impact the care given to patients. 

Providing the Annual Wellness Visits and Preventive Care in a Financially Sustainable Way

Medicare annual wellness visits and associated preventive services are not just valuable for patients. Organizations that provide these services can increase their revenue opportunities. In fact, by expanding establishing or growing an AWV program, an organization can generate significant, recurring reimbursement, as is covered in this on-demand webinar.

But Medicare hasn't made it easy for organizations to maintain compliance with its various AWV coding, billing, documentation, and service requirements, as rules undergo regular changes that can easily be missed or misunderstood. Enter Prevounce.

Prevounce lifts the burden of sorting through Medicare regulations to help you understand how preventive services can be utilized to best benefit the patient and your organization. Our platform improves everything from AWV eligibility verification to patient outreach and intake, to billing and coding, to completion of documentation, and more. To learn what Prevounce can do for your AWV program, whether it's in its infancy or ready for significant growth, schedule a demo today

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Disclaimer

Health economic and reimbursement information provided by Prevounce is gathered from third-party sources and is subject to change without notice as a result of complex and frequently changing laws, regulations, rules, and policies. This information is presented for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute reimbursement or legal advice.

Prevounce encourages providers to submit accurate and appropriate claims for services. It is always the provider’s responsibility to determine medical necessity, the proper site for delivery of any services, and to submit appropriate codes, charges, and modifiers for services rendered. It is also always the provider’s responsibility to understand and comply with Medicare national coverage determinations (NCD), Medicare local coverage determinations (LCD), and any other coverage requirements established by relevant payers which can be updated frequently.

Prevounce recommends that you consult with your payers, reimbursement specialists, and/or legal counsel regarding coding, coverage, and reimbursement matters.

Payer policies will vary and should be verified prior to treatment for limitations on diagnosis, coding, or site of service requirements.

The coding options listed here are commonly used codes and are not intended to be an all- inclusive list. We recommend consulting your relevant manuals for appropriate coding options.

The Health Care Provider (HCP) is solely responsible for selecting the site of service and treatment modalities appropriate for the patient based on medically appropriate needs of that patient and the independent medical judgement of the HCP.

 

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