Oncology & Hematology Coding Alert

Bone Biopsy and Aspiration Codes Moved to Surgery Section

- Published on Sat, Dec 01, 2001
Two of the more significant changes in CPT 2002 are the new codes for bone marrow biopsies and aspirations:
   38220 bone marrow aspiration 
38221 bone marrow biopsy, needle or trocar.
These codes replace bone marrow biopsy code 85102 and bone marrow aspiration code 85095.
The change moves the bone marrow procedures out of the pathology and laboratory section of the CPT and into the surgery section of the manual. This revision identifies the removal of bone marrow as a surgical procedure, rather than a surgical pathology procedure.
However, the change in procedure codes is unlikely to affect Medicare's position for not reimbursing bone marrow biopsies and aspirations separately, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology's department of public policy and practice.
From Medicare's perspective, the biopsy and aspiration are the same because the two samples marrow and bone are drawn from one incision, removed from the same site, and often with the same needle. In its Correct Coding Initiative (CCI), CMS directs carriers to pay for the biopsy but not the aspiration if reported together. Therefore, oncology practices can bill 38220 or 38221.

Prove Distinct Services
Oncologists have argued unsuccessfully that biopsies and aspirations, while closely related, are separate procedures.
CCI provides an exemption when one of the codes is accompanied by modifier -59 (distinct procedural service). Practices should report bone marrow biopsies and bone marrow aspirations separately and append modifier -59 to either one, says Nancy Giacomozzi, manager at P.K. Administrative Services in Englewood, Colo.
To apply modifier -59 appropriately, the oncology practice must be able to prove that 38220 and 38221 are independent of each other.
If the biopsy and aspiration were taken from separate sites from each side of the hip, for example that is considered two separate procedures. However, this rarely occurs. 
Some oncologists perform an aspiration by inserting a fine needle into the hip or sternum where bone marrow is pulled up into a syringe. A biopsy is done by inserting a larger needle into the same area. The needle is pushed down until a small piece of bone is obtained. The use of two needles can be interpreted as distinct procedures, says Stephanie Thompson, CPC, practice manager for Lexington Oncology Associates, an oncology practice in Lexington, Ky. 
Along with appending modifier -59 to 38220 or 38221, the physician should document the gauge of both needles to make it clear that two were used as well as a description of the techniques followed to aspirate and biopsy the bone marrow.
Unfortunately, if the oncologist uses only one needle, the oncology practice would have no choice but to bill 38220 or 38221.
Lab Reimbursement
If the oncologist or hematologist performs an interpretation service, he or she may bill for the [...]

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