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Friday, January 30, 2015

No co pay for well visits! But then there's the small print...

It is recommended that at least once a year children be seen for a well visit. It is important that your child's doctor see him regularly when well and not just when sick so we have time to get to know him better and keep up with how he's doing. It might seem time consuming and wasteful, but well visits help track growth, development, safety issues, and much more. Your kids need to come in even if the school doesn't require shots or a form. Now that well visits usually don't involve a co pay, they can be free (or included in the cost of your insurance premium), so there is one more reason for you to bring your child in for well care.


For years we have had the poster below in our exam rooms. It explains what it covered in a well visit and what insurance companies might define as extra services that families must pay.


We have a lot of insurance information on our website. We also send a pre-visit email to all patients who have registered on our website portal. This email contains a lot of important information, including billing and insurance issues that commonly come up at well checks. Our parent handbook that is available in each room includes common billing codes and the amount we charge for each. I have blogged about insurance time and time again. 

Sometimes parents are upset to learn that we can't go over the laundry list of problems that day due to limited time. Well visits have a number of things to cover, and there is limited time for any given appointment. We want to spend adequate time on each concern.

If we do have time to address some or all of the additional issues, parents are usually happy for the convenience. But many are surprised that their Explanation of Benefit (EOB) from their insurance company includes a bill to the family.

Why is this?

Insurance has agreed that preventative well visits promote overall good health and save them money in the long run, so they are willing to have their clients have free well care in order to encourage them to go to those visits.

Insurance is also smart and in the game to make money. They know that many people save up questions to ask at the yearly visit to avoid going in at other times. They are fine with that, but they don't think they should foot the bill for it. If you ask about acne, warts, asthma, and more at a well visit, they know those aren't well topics. They want you to pay the same co pay that would have been expected if you made a separate visit for each issue. Makes sense from a business perspective, right? People often call insurance to complain, and get some version of "your doctor's office billed it wrong" and ask us to change the code.

We didn't bill wrong! We coded for work done. Period. What they are saying is that we billed for some "sick" codes that were addressed at that visit and they don't include "sick" codes in free well care. Or maybe the recommended screening test (such as for autism or depression) is something they don't cover. (This is happening less since the ACA mandates, thankfully.)

Some of the issues that have sick codes are easy to separate from the well visit. To me it is easy if there is a new prescription, that could be a stand alone visit. If your child has an ear infection or if we decide to start a prescription for acne, those easily could have been appointments you schedule separately, but got the convenience of covering it at your well visit.

It is more of a grey area when the prescription is simply a refill and we don't spend a lot of time going over risks of the medicine, how to use it, when to follow up, and all the other "stuff" we do with a new prescription or diagnosis. My EHR (Electronic Health Record) just sees that there was a note or prescription linked to that diagnosis and picks up the code to send to the insurance company along with the other codes from the visit. Some refills really are just a formality, such as for an allergy medicine. Others, such as for asthma, depression, or ADHD, really require assessment to be sure it is the right prescription and proper documentation of that information every time there is is a refill. Those that require school paperwork to authorize a nurse to give medicine at school take more time than a normal well visit. Sometimes there's a fine line between the two.

Some issues are very difficult to say are separate from the well visit. For instance, if a child is overweight, there is a code that gets sent to insurance when we document in the EHR (electronic health record) the assessment of overweight or obese (or some version of a growth issue). We must pick this assessment this to properly document our conversation and advice. Maybe this even leads to extra labs to check on cholesterol or diabetes risks. Growth and nutrition should be discussed at every well visit, so this is part of the well visit, but when the growth is abnormal we might spend more time on it. Does it deserve a sick code and separate charge? This is an often debated topic among pediatricians (and with their patient families when parents get billed). I don't know the answer. If we were lawyers and billed on time, I suspect the bill would be higher than a straight forward well check. But we don't bill on time for these type of visits. People expect that a visit is a visit and it's all-inclusive. It's just not that simple.

I sometimes make the decision to simply not document something we discuss. Typically is is a minor issue that I don't think will need follow up, or I presume if it needs follow up it will get documented at that follow up. This can cause frustration though if a parent calls later and the phone nurse has no idea what advice I gave because there's no indication in the chart it was discussed. And it can be embarrassing when the parent comes in to talk to me about it and I've completely forgotten the previous discussion. There are consequences to trying to be nice when I know the family doesn't want to get charged for something...