Physician: The reimbursement increase should make total ankle replacement “rewarding” for hospitals that invest in those capabilities for their orthopedics service lines.
A little-noticed update in early September to CMS’s Inpatient Prospective Payment System promises to increase the reimbursement bundle for primary and revision total ankle replacement procedures, which a specialist says will yield far better reimbursement and margins for facilities where such procedures are performed.
The changes, which begin at the start of the 2018 fiscal year, move total ankle replacement from a broad, lower-paying joint category that includes total hip and total knee replacement that yielded thin margins and lower utilization into a higher-paying Medicare code, says Greg Berlet, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and certified specialist in total ankle replacement.
“This announcement and change is most significant on the facility level, not the provider level,” says Berlet, who is also managing partner of the Columbus, Ohio-based Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Center, whose nine physicians draw 20-% to 30% of their patients from out of state. “This also doesn’t apply to outpatient centers. The change reflects that people who are changing the regs are hearing us,” he says.
Patients undergoing ankle replacements typically require an overnight stay in the hospital, he says.
The alternative surgical option to replacement, ankle fusion, is a good option for pain relief for such patients, but replacement ideally restores functionality of the joint, while fusion generally reduces joint function. Berlet says the update was needed because knee replacements by comparison are more predictable, and usually are needed because of normal wear and tear and age. Ankle replacement, by contrast, is more complex, requires longer operative times, and may need other work such as ligament repair that is uncommon in knee replacements.
Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.