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Public Statements - Patients, Doctors Need Protection From Federally Mandated Coding Changes, Rep. Gary Palmer Says

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Rep. Gary Palmer has introduced legislation he said will protect patients from harmful ramifications from ICD-10, a new coding system tied to Medicare and Medicaid. Palmer's efforts have the support of the Alabama medical community, including a physician who previously ran against the freshman Congressman for the Sixth District seat

Palmer's bill, the Protecting Patients and Physicians Against Coding Act, would give physicians a two-year grace period in which they would still be paid even if there were errors with the new federally mandated ICD-10 system that's used to document patient care.

Currently, medical practices have until Oct. 1 to implement the changes. Palmer said many smaller medical practices, particularly those in rural areas, are not ready to fully implement the new system and doing so could compromise time that should be devoted to patient care.

"Many medical practices are facing serious problems with the implementation of ICD-10 and we should act to ensure there is no disruption in patient care," Palmer said. "The Protecting Patients and Physicians Against Coding Act will help to ensure that patients will still have access to healthcare during this period of transition."

Bill supported by medical groups

George "Buddy" Smith Jr., M.D., president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, said the group was very concerned about the ICD-10 mandate.

"Not only does it not improve patient care, but it may provide insurers four times as many reasons to deny necessary medical services and procedures because of coding errors," he said.

MASA has endorsed the bill and individual medical groups are voicing their support, too. Among those is Dr. Chad Mathis, a board member of the Alabama Orthopaedic Society and an opponent of Palmer for the sixth Congressional seat.

In a letter written for the AOS board supporting Palmer's bill, Mathis said the impact of the new system "with its intimate coupling to our billing system will be devastating for man physicians in small practices, rural health care centers and most likely some state Medicaid programs who have lacked the financial resources, staff expertise and time to make necessary changes, especially in regards to technology.

"We cannot sit idly by and watch a coding system actually destroy the practice of many physicians," he added.

Those comments are echoed by Dr. John Meigs, a family physician from Centerville, and a member of the board of censors at MASA.

"The new coding system does nothing for patients or doctors, it's for insurance companies and bean counters," said Dr. Meigs. "It will get in the way of the care patients in rural areas badly need. There hasn't been much in terms of a trial run. To avoid serious disruptions, there's going to need to be a grace period where physicians get a chance to get used to this new system."

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