Objectives: The US Affordable Care Act (ACA) now requires almost all health insurance plans to cover tobacco use treatment (TUT), but TUT remains underutilized.
Methods: We conducted an anonymous online survey of US TUT providers in 2016 regarding their billing practices.
Results: Participants (n = 131) provided services primarily in medical and behavioral health settings and were from a variety of professions. Most provided intensive individual (>15 minutes per session) and/or group counseling. Although most reported that their organization accepted at least 1 form of insurance, only 34% reported that TUT services were billed, with about equal proportions endorsing billing under their own independent tax ID and "incident to" billing under a supervisor. Half of billers (52%) reported using at least 1 Current Procedural Terminology code. The most common codes were 99406 and 99407, but 18 unique codes were specified. Themes of qualitative responses (n = 101) included concern about how to initiate and sustain adequate reimbursement, and experiences with billing not being "worth" the time or effort.
Conclusions: Overall, results demonstrate a need for providers, administrators, and billing managers to work collaboratively. Even with the ACA mandate, and consistent with prior reports, reimbursement rates may be inadequate for intensive counseling. Areas for advocacy include recognizing that TUT requires similar intensity, expertise, and reimbursement as other substance use disorders and chronic medical conditions; giving Tobacco Treatment Specialists the ability to bill independently; and improving coordination between intensive therapies validated in research and "real-world" logistics.