Charles B. Brownlow
Just as your new diagnostic imaging instrument is delivered and you are
feeling good about the great discount you got and the break it provided for
your 2010 income taxes, your 2011 edition of Current Procedural Terminology
(CPT, American Medical Association) shows up in your mailbox.
As is your habit, you open it up and turn immediately to the Medicine
Guidelines section of the book to check the definitions for all the
ophthalmology series (92000) codes. You carefully read through the General
Ophthalmological Services, find no significant changes and then begin reading
each of the definitions in the Special Ophthalmological Services section.
You start with 92015, determination of refractive state; no
change there. You proceed down through 92020, gonioscopy; no
change. You continue through 92060, sensorimotor examination,
92081-92083, visual field examination, 92100, serial
tonometry, 92132, scanning
Where is 92135? Whats
going on here?
The code 92135 has been replaced with three separate codes for 2011. The
change occurred through the CPT Editorial Board over the course of several
meetings, as part of a systematic, periodic review of all CPT codes.
You may remember that anterior segment imaging came on the scene within
the last few years and had been given a Category III CPT code (a temporary
code), 0187T. The Editorial Board needed to decide whether to give anterior
segment imaging a Category I code and, in the process, it reconsidered the
appropriateness of 92135. Anterior segment imaging was given the
code 92132, imaging of the posterior retina, optic nerve was given
a new code, 92133, and imaging of the posterior segment, retina was
given the code 92134.
Bilateral now unilateral
After the decision to eliminate 92135 and replace it with 92132 through
92134, the CPT Editorial Board also decided to change the code from
unilateral, billed on a per-eye basis, to unilateral or
bilateral, meaning that the reimbursement is the same whether the test is
done on one eye or both. Even though 92135 was unilateral, most other services
in the Special Ophthalmological Services series are bilateral. This trend of
changing unilateral services to bilateral goes back a long way in eye care, as
visual fields were originally unilateral codes and have been bilateral for
about 20 years.
Source: Brownlow CB
One would assume that changing a code from unilateral to bilateral is a
reflection of the Editorial Boards understanding that the service is
generally done on both eyes at the same visit, based on its review of claims
data. The change would not be significant on its own if the resulting value for
the service was at or near two times the value set for the service
Unfortunately, that is not what happened. The relative value for each of
the new codes and, thus, the Medicare allowed charge for two eyes is very close
to the 2010 Medicare allowed charge for 92135 for each eye.
The relative value unit and allowed charge for each of the new codes are
shown in the accompanying table.
Updating the relative value scale
Setting the relative values for new codes and reviewing the relative
values of existing codes is the responsibility of another board, the AMA
Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), which comprises representatives
from the various specialties, including optometry and ophthalmology.
The relative value for each code is based upon several factors,
including practice expense, physician work and professional liability expense.
All deliberations of the CPT Editorial Board and the RUC are confidential, so
any theories regarding the logic applied to the act of setting these values
would be pure conjecture.
Changes to posterior codes
According to the 2011 CPT, the two posterior codes, 92133 and 92134, are
mutually exclusive and cannot be reported on the same day. However, either of
the two may be reported on the same day 92132 is done, assuming the diagnosis
codes support their use. The appropriate use of each of these codes is based on
the needs of the patient, of course, as is true with all services reported
using CPT codes.
The final step of introducing the new codes will be insurance companies
establishing lists of diagnosis codes for which each of the three procedures
will be paid. Medicare will likely publish a National Coverage Determination
(NCD) for each code, replacing the NCD that had been in place for the 92135. In
the meantime, physicians should continue to provide care based on each
If in doubt regarding coverage, physicians should thoroughly explain the
importance of the service and provide the patient with the opportunity to sign
an Advance Beneficiary Notice (ABN) prior to providing the service. By signing
the ABN, the patient may accept responsibility for payment for the service in
the event the insurer rules the service to be not reasonable and
You may also take some comfort in the fact that as this article is
written no information is available regarding fees paid by commercial insurers
for the new codes. Commercial insurers set their reimbursements independent
Summary of changes
To summarize the Medicare coding changes:
- Imaging codes 92135 and 0187T have been eliminated from CPT.
- Three new CPT codes have been created to replace them: 92132, 92133
- Either of the posterior codes, 92133 or 92134, may be billed on the
same day as the anterior code, 92133.
- 92133 and 92134 may not be billed on the same day.
- Each of the new codes is bilateral.
- The relative values and, thus, the 2011 Medicare allowed charge for
92132 (unilateral/bilateral) is lower than the 2010 Medicare allowed charge for
- The 2011 allowed charges for 92133 and 92134 (both of which are
unilateral/bilateral) are slightly higher than the 2010 allowed charge for
- Charles B. Brownlow, OD, FAAO, is a member of the Primary Care
Optometry News Editorial Board and a health care consultant. He can be
reached at PMI, LLC, 321 W. Fulton St., P.O. Box 608, Waupaca, WI 54981;