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The now-notorious 59 modifier

I’m really puzzled about two things.

After 4500+ views of my post re the 59 modifier and its use/abuse, an energetic conversation on Mark Walls’ LinkedIn group on the topic, and a bunch of conversations with PT providers, what’s surprising is the:

  • apparent lack of concern amongst most PT providers about this, and
  • the lengths to which some are going to spin this as a “non-issue”

For the providers, it isn’t so much a lack of concern as misplaced anger.  Many of the  commenters and PTs I’ve spoken with are painting all managed care companies with the same broad brush, an approach that is as unfair and wrong-headed as characterizing all PTs as over-utilizers.  Do networks make money by connecting providers and payers? Yes.

Is this somehow “bad”? Of course not.  Aggregators work in every industry in this country – from insurance to hospital supplies to shoes to department stores to travel.

In work comp, there are networks that don’t alter provider treatment codes, and there are networks that do.  If you want to know if your network does, ask them.

Providers should be focusing on the impact of networks adding the 59 modifier to the treating providers’ bills.


  • are you, treating provider, getting paid fairly for this treatment that you allegedly didn’t bill correctly for?
  • your treatment records now reflect higher utilization for many patients; as networks are constantly evaluating and assessing provider performance, are you being judged fairly?

OK, on to the messaging.

There is an obtusely-worded document currently circulating that makes several rather stunning statements, including:

  • Treating providers correctly use the 59 modifier the vast majority of the time
  • 59 modifiers should be used on less than ten percent of PT bills
  • The network reviews the clinical documentation and adds the 59 modifier if appropriate

Given that some HSA clients have seen modifiers on more than 40 percent of their bills, it’s hard to see how a network could take the time to individually review clinical documentation on each and every bill, then make a determination that 40% of bills needed to be changed.

Especially when those treating providers bill correctly the vast majority of the time.

The coding experts I have spoken with all agree: no network should ever change a treating provider’s coding, which this document indicates the network actually is doing.  OK, perhaps the coding experts I spoke with don’t know what they’re talking about…

and perhaps your spouse is going to win “The Voice”.

We are left with the rather clear statement that less than 10% of provider bills should include the 59 modifier.

What does this mean to you?

If more than 20% of PT provider bills include the 59 modifier, somebody got some ‘splainin to do…

because your PT costs and “savings” may well be inflated.

3 thoughts on “The now-notorious 59 modifier”

  1. Maybe the solution is to go directly to the PT provider and cut out the ‘middleman’ (the PT Network). The existing managed care networks have PT providers WITHOUT going through a special network. Get the billing directly from the provider of the service.

    1. Anne – couple thoughts. First, the solution is to work with networks you trust – whether specialty or generalist.

      Second, the big generalist networks usually contract with the specialty outfits. While the generalists do have direct contracts as well, with specialty networks there’s much more effort at direction.

  2. Hi Joe
    I am in CA and this is on my radar. I am concerned. Several of my colleagues can confirm what you are saying is 100% true. I have seen the smoking gun. In this case, the gun is still red hot and has not come even close to cooling down. The gig is up…….
    Paul Gaspar, DPT

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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