The laboratory billing process is the interaction between a clinical lab or pathology group and the insurance company (payer). The entirety of this laboratory billing interaction is known as the billing cycle, which can take anywhere from several days to several months to complete, and require several interactions before a resolution is reached. The entire process is the function of what is commonly known as the laboratory coding/billing/collections department.
Laboratory billing starts with laboratory coding. After a lab service is provided, diagnosis and procedure codes are assigned. These codes assist the insurance company in determining coverage and medical necessity of the services. The codes used for laboratory billing are the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, usually called by the short-form name International Classification of Diseases (ICD), and the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes.
The ICD is the international “standard diagnostic tool for epidemiology, health management and clinical purposes.” The current version is ICD-9, with ICD 10 scheduled to become the new standard on Oct. 15, 2015. It is maintained by the World Health Organization, the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations System. The ICD is designed as a health care classification system, providing a system of diagnostic codes for classifying diseases, including nuanced classifications of a wide variety of signs, symptoms, abnormal findings, complaints, social circumstances, and external causes of injury or disease.
The CPT code set is a medical code set maintained by the American Medical Association through the CPT Editorial Panel. The CPT (copyright protected by the AMA) describes medical, surgical, and diagnostic services and is designed to communicate uniform information about medical services and procedures among physicians, coders, patients, accreditation organizations, and payers for administrative, financial, and analytical purposes.
Once the procedure and diagnosis codes are determined, the lab bill enters the laboratory collections/revenue cycle management phase. The payer is usually billed electronically by formatting the claim as an ANSI 837 file and using Electronic Data Interchange to submit the claim file to the payer directly or via a clearinghouse. The payer processes the claims usually by medical claims examiners or medical claims adjusters. For higher dollar amount claims, the insurance company has medical directors review the claims and evaluate their validity for payment using rubrics (procedure) for patient eligibility, provider credentials, and medical necessity.
Approved claims are reimbursed for a certain percentage of the billed services. These rates are pre-negotiated between the health care provider and the insurance company. Failed claims are denied or rejected and notice is sent to provider. Most commonly, denied or rejected claims are returned to providers in the form of Explanation of Benefits (EOB) or Electronic Remittance Advice.
Upon receiving the denial message the provider must decipher the message, reconcile it with the original claim, make required corrections and resubmit the claim. This exchange of claims and denials may be repeated multiple times until a claim is paid in full, or the provider relents and accepts an incomplete reimbursement.