Medicare Proposes Massive Cuts to Chiropractic Payments

Medicare Proposes Massive Cuts to Chiropractic Payments

In August 2020, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule that announces upcoming changes for Medicare payments under the Physician Fee Schedule (PFS), beginning January 1, 2021. The 2021 proposed rule was intended to improve payments and decrease complexity for evaluation and management services, increase coverage for opioid use disorder treatments, and broaden telehealth service coverage.  However, in order to compensate for the budgetary impact of these increases, which HHS is required to do, the rule implements a significant decrease in the value of other health care services.  Unfortunately, payments to chiropractic physicians and other providers will be significantly reduced.

Medicare uses a system of “relative value units” (RVUs) to arrive at its fee schedule.  Under this arrangement, each CPT code is given a value, expressed as a number of “RVUs,” that is then multiplied by a “conversion factor” to calculate the fee. (See detailed explanation below.)   In short, Medicare is cutting the relative value units (RVUs) for 9894x codes by 10%. Additionally, they are cutting the conversion factor by over 10%. The result is a Medicare allowable amount cut of 19.54% for chiropractic adjustments. Of course, spinal adjustment – CPT codes 9894x – is the only service for which Medicare pays chiropractic physicians, and these changes are wholly unacceptable.


The Illinois Chiropractic Society believes these changes and their impact to the chiropractic profession and our Medicare patients are unwarranted, ill-advised, and do not align with the rule’s purpose. As a result, we have taken and will be taking further action on your behalf.

What We Have Done and Are Doing

The ICS filed official comments to HHS and CMS regarding the final rule earlier this week, and you can find a copy of our comment letter here. This is a critical step in our formal advocacy process to ensure that CMS is fully aware of the negative impact of these changes.

Next week, will be calling our members to contact their Congresspersons as soon as possible to prevent the rule from becoming finalized. We will provide doctors with the information and means to appropriately contact Congresspersons asking them to act on our and our patients’ behalf. Many experts that believe that Congress will have to take action in order to stop these changes from occurring.

Additionally, in order to create a much larger impact, the Illinois Chiropractic Society is taking proactive steps to work with the Congress of Chiropractic State Associations, the Michigan Association of Chiropractors, and many other states to ensure that the chiropractic voice is heard widely by both CMS and by Congressional leaders.

Breakdown of the Proposed Changes and Impact

For a more detailed explanation of how the changes were calculated, the CMS proposed rule modifies two key factors that are important to chiropractic physician Medicare reimbursement: relative value unit (RVU) for the codes that are covered by Medicare and the conversion factor for all RVUs. Medicare uses the total RVU as a multiplier against the conversion factor to determine billable amounts for services. For example, CPT code 98940 (chiropractic manipulative treatment; spinal; 1-2 regions) has a national RVU of .8 in 2020, and the overall 2020 conversion factor is 36.09.  The Medicare allowable amount is calculated by multiplying 36.09 x .8 =  $28.87 as the national (not geographically adjusted) billable amount.

However, this proposed rule for 2021 will decrease the RVU for CPT code 98940 from .8 to .72 (a 10% decrease for all 9894x codes). To make matters worse, the rule will also lower the conversion factor from 36.09 to 32.2605 (a greater than 10% decrease). The overall effect of these two negative adjustments to the only covered codes for chiropractic physicians is a resulting 19.54% reduction in Medicare allowable amounts.

The Illinois Chiropractic Society is, of course, strenuously opposed to these changes and has urged HHS to reverse  decreases to the RVUs for CPT codes 9894x.  In fact, the ICS urged HHS to increase the RVUs for spinal manipulation to reflect the E/M elements included in that service, to carry out the stated purpose of the rule and to provide parity with the proposed increases for E/M services that are covered when rendered by other providers.

Please watch your email and social media accounts for our call to action next week.

About Author

ICS Staff

The Illinois Chiropractic Society staff works collaboratively on many topics to bring the most comprehensive and relevant information to our members. We have over 60 years of chiropractic experience and understand the heartbeat of the profession. We all look forward to providing relevant information to our members for years to come.

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