The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dan Pellegrini, Judge
Submitted: March 25, 2011
BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, Judge HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge
OPINION BY JUDGE PELLEGRINI
Jeffrey Yablon, M.D. and Vincent Ferrara, M.D. (collectively, Providers) appeal the Bureau of Workers' Compensation Fee Review Hearing Office's (Hearing Officer) determination that PMA (Insurer), a workers' compensation insurer, did not lose the right to "downcode" charges because more than 30 days had passed after their bill had been submitted. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
This case stems from vertebral axial decompression (VAX-D) treatment provided by Providers to two workers' compensation claimants. Both Providers billed the VAX-D treatment using CPT code 97799,*fn1 which is an unlisted code only to be used if there is no physical medicine code describing the service performed. Insurer downcoded both bills to CPT code 97012, mechanical traction, resulting in a smaller fee paid by Insurer to Providers. Insurer did not notify Providers of its intent to downcode the bills until after 30 days from the submission of the bills had passed.*fn2
Providers contested both the downcoding and timeliness of the downcoding to the Bureau of Worker's Compensation, and the matter was assigned to a hearing officer. As to the timeliness, Providers contended that once 30 days had passed for payment, Insurer was barred from downcoding and was required to pay Providers the full amount billed. The hearing officer found that Insurer had correctly downcoded the bills from CPR code 97799 to 97012, and that the violation of the 30-day limitation resulted in interest payments to Providers, not a bar to Insurer's ability to downcode. This appeal followed.*fn3
On appeal, Providers only contest the issue of whether the downcoding was timely. They contend that the 30-day limitation found in Section 306(f.1)(5) of the Act and its implementing regulation, 34 Pa. Code §127.208(d), which gives the provider the opportunity to discuss the proposed changes but does not extend the time for payment, acts as an absolute bar to Insurer's ability to downcode after 30 days of the submission of the bill. Because Insurer did not start the procedures set forth in Section 127.207(a)-(c)*fn4 within 30 days, Providers argue then that 34 Pa.
Code §§127.207(d) and 127.254(b)*fn5 require Insurer to pay the full amount of the fee billed based on the original code submitted by Providers. In effect, what Providers are suggesting is that within 30 days, an insurer must pay the amount billed or notify the provider that it intends to downcode and, if it does not, it is required to pay the bill as submitted.
Section 127.207, however, only provides penalties when the procedures regarding downcoding are not followed; it does not provide for any penalty for failure to institute the procedure within 30 days. Section 127.208(d) provides that if an insurer proposes to change the provider's codes, the time required to give the provider the opportunity to discuss the proposed changes does not lengthen the 30- day period in which payment is to made to the provider. The penalty provided for failing to institute the procedure within 30 days is set forth in Section 127.210, 34 Pa. Code §127.210, entitled "Interest on untimely payments," which provides the procedure for non-compliance with the 30-day time limitation contained two sections earlier in Section 127.208(d). It provides:
(a) If an insurer fails to pay the entire bill [subsection (b) has the same effect on bills partially not paid] within 30 days of receipt of the required bills and medical reports, interest shall accrue on the due and unpaid balance at 10% per annum under section 406.1(a) of the act (77 P.S. §717.1).
In effect, the penalty for failing to institute the procedure for downcoding the bill is the same as not paying a bill at all - interest on the unpaid balance at 10%.
Because this is exactly the remedy ordered by the hearing officer, his decision is affirmed.
IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Dr. Jeffrey Yablon and Dr. Vincent : Ferrara, : Petitioners : : v. : : Bureau of Workers' Compensation : Fee Review ...