UnitedHealthCare Denials for ALS-2 Claims

Talking Medicare

with Brian S. Werfel, AAA Medicare Consultant

Over the past few weeks, we have received emails from ambulance providers across the country reporting that UnitedHealthCare (UHC) has started to deny claims for the ALS-2 base rate. Affected claims include both commercial and Medicare Advantage claims. These providers are reporting that UHC is requiring the use of Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) Codes to support the ALS-2 level of service.

When these providers call UHC to question the denials, the customer service representative refers them to UHC’s online policies and procedures manual. The section of that manual devoted to the ALS-2 base rate largely mirrors Medicare’s definition. For example, it indicates that ALS-2 can be billed based on three separate administrations of one or more medications by IV push/bolus or continuous infusion, or upon provision of one or more of the designated ALS-2 procedures (e.g., an endotracheal intubation).

However, the manual section then goes on to indicate that “Ambulance Providers or Suppliers are required to report CPT or HCPCS codes… when reporting A0433Ambulance transport services that do not include the services described in criteria 1 or 2 above should be reported with a more appropriate ambulance transport code.

The manual section concludes with links to two lists of CPT codes. The first list, designated as “ALS2 Criteria 1 Codes” relate to the intravenous administration of various medications. These codes fall within the range of: 96365 – 96376. The second list, designated as “ALS2 Criteria 2 Codes” correspond to the various ALS interventions:

CPT Code:                            Description:
31500                                    Endotracheal Intubation, Emergency
31603                                    Under Incision Procedures on Trachea and Bronchi
31605                                    Under Incision Procedures on Trachea and Bronchi
36000                                    Under Intravenous Vascular Introduction & Injection Procedure
36555                                    Central Venous Catheter Placement, Patient Under Five Years
36556                                    Central Venous Catheter Placement, Patient Over Five Years
36568                                    Insertion of Central Venous Access Device
36569                                    PICC Line Insertion
36680                                    Intraosseous Line Infusions
92950                                    Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
92953                                    Other Therapeutic Cardiovascular Services
92960                                    External Electrical Cardioversion, Non-Emergency
92961                                    External Electrical Cardioversion, Emergency

The ambulance providers have indicated that they have questioned UHC on the necessity of including CPT codes on these claims. These providers argue, correctly, that CMS does not require the use of CPT codes on Medicare claims. Instead, Medicare requires the ambulance provider to document in the billing narrative the justification for billing ALS-2. For example, a provider might list multiple administrations of epinephrine, the use of an intraosseous line, etc.

The fact that UHC is asking for the CPT codes suggests that it does not currently review the billing narratives. Instead, UHC appears to be using the CPT codes to ensure that the ALS-2 criteria are met.

Is UHC correct to insist upon the use of CPT codes? Probably not, at least for its Medicare Advantage claims. However, I think the more appropriate question to ask ourselves is whether it is worth fighting UHC on this issue? If using CPT codes ensure that UHC correctly processes and pays these claims with minimal delay, my opinion is that it is probably easier just to comply with their policy.

Have an issue you would like to see discussed in a future Talking Medicare blog? Please write to me at bwerfel@aol.com.

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Insurance, Medicare, Talking Medicare, UnitedHealthCare (UHC)


Brian Werfel

Brian S. Werfel, Esq. is a partner in Werfel & Werfel, PLLC, a New York based law firm specializing in Medicare issues related to the ambulance industry. Brian is a Medicare Consultant to the American Ambulance Association, and has authored numerous articles on Medicare reimbursement, most recently on issues such as the beneficiary signature requirement, repeat admissions and interrupted stays. He is a frequent lecturer on issues of ambulance coverage and reimbursement. Brian is co-author of the AAA’s Medicare Reference Manual for Ambulance, as well as the author of the AAA’s HIPAA Reference Manual. Brian is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia School of Law. Prior to joining the firm in 2005, he specialized in mergers & acquisitions and commercial real estate at a prominent New York law firm. Werfel & Werfel, PLLC was founded by David M. Werfel, who has been the Medicare Consultant to the American Ambulance Association for over 20 years.

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