Massachusetts health care consortium begins ICD-10 testing

As 2014 rolls on and complaints such as the American Medical Association's public denial of ICD-10's effectiveness continue to build, the Oct. 1 transition creeps closer. The AMA cited increased costs, lost productivity and unclear solutions to those problems from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as reasons to halt the fall switchover.

Not everyone within the medical community is behind the AMA, however, as Healthcare IT News reported that a coalition of Massachusetts insurance providers has begun widespread testing of ICD-10 procedures to evaluate their readiness for the transition.

Health care pioneers
Massachusetts was one of the first states to adopt a health care plan that would later spur reform on the national level, and some critics are praising the Massachusetts initiative as another step forward for a new generation of medical billing. The Massachusetts Health Data Consortium, a collection of eight health plans and nine providers, has begun working together on the ICD-10 Collaborative Testing program, an evaluation of their readiness for the transition to the new codes that they hope will reduce the financial risk and disruptions in care and payment that may be caused by the actual changeover several months later. 

"The State of Massachusetts is commonly known for being a pioneer in health care coverage and accessibility, technology and collaboration are no exception," Denny Brennan, executive director of the collaborative group, said in a press release.

The providers and plans will use an online portal to test their readiness to share data, process transactions and analyze the results of patient information. Still more than half a year ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline, the consortium expects more organizations to join their program in the months to come.

Waiting for the eleventh hour
While a few providers in Massachusetts have begun preparing for the ICD-10 transition, they are more the exception than the rule. OncLive reported that, while the thousands of new billing codes may require intense scrutiny by staffers in order to implement smoothly into their work, 50 percent of practices will not begin to prepare for ICD-10 until May.

Of the practices surveyed, 32 percent believed that they had plenty of time left to prepare a proper response that would not result in a serious disruption to productivity or cash flow. When pressed for a reason as to why they had not begun training staff or purchasing software, 27 percent indicated they had no idea how to start., while 25 percent said they lacked resources such as free time or available staff to make provisions for the transition.

The news is disconcerting for physicians and patients alike. Doctors are unwilling to disrupt their current level of patient focus by dedicating resources necessary for a smooth transition to the new set of billing codes, potentially setting themselves up for disruptions at the time of the transition, and the quality of care patients receive will be affected by whichever scenario plays out. As estimates of costs and halts to care continue to build, practices may want to consider the approach being taken by Massachusetts providers rather than hoping for the best.