Like medical coders, billers, physicians, and others in practices nationwide, CMS was both surprised and disappointed that Congress delayed ICD-10 implementation, but it remains committed to the conversion and plans a major announcement soon.
"It's been hard for us," said Denise Buenning, acting deputy director for CMS' Office of e-Health Standards and Services. "We were as surprised as all of you [with the congressional legislation]. As far as we were concerned, the date was not going to change … but we serve at the will of Congress … and we'll implement [the delay] as the public servants we are."
Buenning closed this year's American Health Information Management Association ICD-10 and Computer-assisted Coding Summit, held in Washington, D.C., April 23, detailing what the federal agency has been going through since March 31 when the U.S. Senate passed HR 4302. The bill, previously passed by members of the U.S. House, focused primarily on a one-year delay of proposed physician pay cuts under the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, but also included a one-line provision delaying ICD-10 implementation from Oct. 1, 2014, to no earlier than Oct. 1, 2015.
Buenning reiterated that CMS was fully ready for a 2014 transition date and proposed end-to-end testing of the new codes this summer and that the agency was "very surprised" with Congress' action. "We really didn't know [it was coming]," Buenning said, as usually, there are murmurs about such legislation, but the one-line provision came out of the blue.
Since the congressional vote, Buenning said CMS has been looking at the legislation, having "robust discussions," and running a new ICD-10 implementation plan through all the proper channels, "to make sure we get it right." At this point, CMS is working on messaging to be sure it properly communicates the new deadline and next steps, she said, and an announcement by HHS - of which CMS is an operating agency - is due "in the near future."
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Just because ICD-10 was delayed doesn't mean it's dead, Buenning stressed.
"Is [the delay] a momentum killer? Possibly. Is it a killer for ICD-10? No, it isn't," she said.
Buenning noted that extra time means more work on the end-to-end testing process, which she said will be "more robust" and "eliminates any excuses" for those in the healthcare industry not to transition to ICD-10. "We aren't being flip or glib about this," she said. "We realize this is your livelihood [as coders]."
When asked how CMS plans to keep physicians and others engaged and aware of the importance of ICD-10 following the delay, Buenning reminded the audience that CMS is not alone in that endeavor.