Incident To: Proceed with Caution

Billing incident to is a question I frequently find in my inbox, on listserves, social media groups and at conferences. I’ve even seen this discussed, often erroneously on medical billing and coding discussion groups and listserves.

In most situations, this applies to  Medicare, but it is possible that your state Medicaid payer, as well as some commercial insurers have adopted, or will adopt these rules.

So what’s the deal about incident to?  Many practices that employee advanced practice clinicians (NPs and PAs) like to bill incident to. Why? Billing incident to allows a practice to collect 100% of the Medicare physician allowable reimbursement. As you know, advanced practice clinicians (NPs and Pas) are allowed only 85% of the physician allowable. Since profit margins are low, it makes sense that a practice wants to collect 100%.

Of course, it makes sense for clinicians to be paid for the same work…but that’s another story for another time.)

However, there are several rules which must be met when billing under incident to. It is your responsibility to understand the billing that takes place in your name. Ignorance is not a defense should the office be investigated for billing fraud.

Here’s a run down on the incident to requirements (references at the end of this article):

  1. The Advanced Practice Clinician must be employed by or contracted to the physician or physician group.
  2. The physician must see the patient first, establish the diagnosis and the treatment plan and remain actively involved in the patients care.
  3. The services must be an integral part of the patient’s normal course of treatment, and are generally included in the physician’s bill.
  4. The APC is follow up on the established treatment plan and is NOT addressing any new problems.
  5. The physician must be immediately available and in the suite at the time the APC is seeing the patient to follow up on the previously established plan.

There are several problems here for any APC. The most common is the fact that when we are seeing patients, there is almost always something new to be discussed. A visit is rarely just about the hypertension and the medication that the physician prescribed. A new problem that must be addressed negates the visit as being incident to.

For those of us that are practice owners, it is highly unlikely there is a physician on the premises and we are not employed or contracted to a physician or physician group and a physician has not seen the patient first to establish the diagnosis and treatment plan.

As you can see, meeting the incident to rules is something that does not happen in our day to day clinical lives, regardless of who we work for and how we practice. It’s imperative that we understand and adhere to these rules, and that we educate those we work with.  If your practice is billing incident to, you’ll want to proceed with extreme caution. Being associated with healthcare billing fraud is something you want to avoid…like the plague.

You can learn more about the Medicare incident to rules as well as brush up on health care fraud at the sites listed below.

  • MLN Matters Number: SE0441
  • Medicare Information for Advanced Practice Nurses and Physician Assistants
  • Stop Medicare Fraud:
  • Office of the Inspector General:

(c) Barbara C. Phillips, NP, All Rights Reserved

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  1. It is difficult for me as an NP to understand that as far as nursing has come in and of its own right as a profession, we are constantly being held down by the constraints of our own government/and the medical doctors. I hear all to frequently how there are “too few providers (medical doctors, there is a looming shortage)” but then they don’t want to pay us the value we add to the overall need. Pay me what I am worth, and stop trying to put me on a the proverbial plantation. This is just plain wrong on so many levels! Practice managers will buy into to this scattered/schizophrenic system of payment only to find the bottom line has way too many obstacles to obtain the full amount of payment. Bottom line, just pay providers for what they provide…care.

  2. I am a C. Ped. mainly dealing with therapeutic shoes. The new guidelines allow for an NP or PA to sign much of the documentation providing they are working incident to the supervising physician. As a 3rd party provider how do I tell f these rules are met?

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