Although many Medicare billing rules can present challenges for physicians, the incident-to billing rules consistently confound many physicians. The incident-to rules permit a physician to bill for the services of non-physician mid-level providers and auxiliary personnel as if the physician performed those services himself. To be covered on an incident-to basis, the services and supplies must be:
• An integral, although incidental, part of the physician’s professional service. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has interpreted this to mean that there must have been a physician’s service rendered to which the auxiliary personnel services are incidental. However, according to CMS, this does not mean that a physician’s service must precede every single incident-to service. Rather, there must have been a physician’s service which initiates the course of treatment during which incident-to services will be rendered.
• Commonly rendered without charge or included in the physician’s bill.
• Of a type that are commonly furnished in physician offices or clinics. If auxiliary personnel perform services outside of the office setting, such as in a patient’s home or an institution (other than a hospital or skilled nursing facility), their services may be covered under the incident-to rules only if there is direct supervision by the physician. In a non-office setting, direct supervision would require that the physician be in the immediate presence of the auxiliary personnel while the services are being rendered.
• Furnished by the physician or by auxiliary personnel under the physician’s direct supervision. This means the physician must be present in the office suite where the services are being rendered, at all times while the services are being rendered, and must be able to immediately respond if needed. CMS has not provided any clear guidance on what constitutes an “office suite,” and presently this is within the discretion of each Medicare Area Contractor.
All of the incident-to rule technical requirements must be met as a condition of Medicare reimbursement. This means that if even one of the requirements is not met, the services may not be billable to Medicare and you may be receiving overpayments (which must be repaid within 60 days of discovery). Accordingly, it is advisable to adopt policies and procedures to ensure ongoing incident-to compliance.