Jonathan Rubenstein, MD
Current Procedural Terminology codes provide a uniform language for reporting medical services and procedures provided by members of the medical community. The codes are copywritten and managed by the CPT Editorial Panel of the American Medical Association. CPT codes may be designated as Category I codes, which are the typical codes used for reporting services, or Category III codes (also known as “Cat III” or “T codes”), which are created to track the utilization of emerging technologies, services, and procedures. Because Category III codes are a unique subset of the CPT code set, it is important for urologists and practices to understand their use and value, when to use them, and when they can be used for reimbursement.
The 2020 CPT code set contains several new Category III codes that may be of interest to urologists (table). In this article, we will provide an overview of this subset of codes and outline the advantages and disadvantages of using them.
Category III codes are temporary, but important
Category III codes are designated as temporary codes by the AMA. Even though the codes are considered temporary, they are an integral and important part of the system. The AMA guidelines for Category III codes include the following: “Category III codes allow data collection for [emerging technologies, services, procedures, and service paradigms]. Use of unlisted codes does not offer the opportunity for the collection of specific data. If a Category III code is available, this code must be reported instead of a Category I unlisted code.”
Unlike Category I CPT codes, Category III codes are not grouped anatomically nor are they grouped by service type (Anesthesia, Surgery, Radiology, Pathology, Medicine, Evaluation and Management). Category III codes instead are assigned a sequential number. To conform to HIPAA format requirements for HCPCS codes, the CPT Category III codes have five characters. The first four characters are numeric (the sequence number assigned by the AMA); the last character is “T.” The descriptions conform to CPT format and terminology.
Category III codes do not need to meet the same standards required by the CPT editorial process for Category I CPT codes. According to the AMA: “For Category I codes, the Panel requires that the service/ procedure be performed by many health care professionals in clinical practice in multiple locations and that FDA approval, as appropriate, has already been received.”
Obtaining a Category III code does not require FDA approval or clearance (of a drug or medical device used in the procedure if required) nor published peer-reviewed evidence for the procedure/service or if required the drug or supply. The CPT editorial panel does require at least one of the following for the procedure/service and the integral drug/supply if required to approve a new Category III code:
• a protocol for a study of procedures being performed
• support from the specialties who would use the procedure
• availability of U.S. peer-reviewed literature
• descriptions of current U.S. trials outlining the efficacy of the procedure.
There are no restrictions on the entity or individual that may submit a request for a CPT code (regardless of category). As part of the process, all submissions for new codes are reviewed by the AMA staff. If the application and applicant meet the requirements set forth by the AMA, the code application is presented to the CPT editorial panel. The editorial panel includes specialty society-appointed members; urologists are appointed by the AUA. Therefore, all codes performed by urologists will likely require the support and recognition by the AUA before they are added to the CPT code set.
Many Category III codes are submitted to the AUA by companies for a technology or procedure for which they would like tracked and monitored for use. When applying for a Category III code, there is an expectation that within 5 years the Category III code will be converted to a Category I code.