If the federal government is going to make doctors shift to the new ICD-10 diagnostic coding system, it should find a way to pay for the shift.

A committee at the American Medical Association (AMA) has made that argument in a packet prepared for the medical association’s House of Delegates interim meeting in National Harbor, Md.

The panel says the AMA should “seek federal legislative and regulatory reform to require funding assistance be provided to physician practices to alleviate the financial burdens associated with implementation costs, upgrades and staff training necessitated as part of the transition to ICD-10,” the panel says.

The standard now in common use, the ICD-9 standard, was developed in the 1970s. The World Health Organization designated the ICD-10 to be the old standard’s successor back in the 1990s.

The ICD-10 standard includes many more diagnosis codes than the ICD-9 standard.

Instead of simply offering a code for “dog bite,” for example, ICD-10 offers separate codes for dog bites involving an initial encounter with the dog and subsequent encounters, and it offers separate, related codes for people who have been struck by dogs or who have had other types of harmful encounters with dogs.

The greater level of detail could make the new standard better for research and some types of insurance claims analysis, but learning and using all of those extra codes is difficult, and shifting to systems that can handle the new standard is also difficult, especially at a time when the federal government is pushing providers to shift to using electronic health record systems, the AMA panel says.

Originally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it would require doctors, hospitals, insurers and others to shift to the new system Oct. 1, 2013. HHS later pushed the deadline back to Oct. 1, 2014.

The House of Delegates also is looking at topics such as efforts to change the Medicare physician payment system and efforts to improve the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). 

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