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Billing and coding

How to use CPT code 90791

Text on a blue background: Billing CPT code 90791

Code 90791 is officially deemed a “diagnostic evaluation,” but you might know it better as an initial assessment. It typically happens in your first session with a client.

CPT code 90791 description

Code 90791 represents your initial assessment of your client. It’s the session where you gather information about the clients symptoms in order to establish a diagnosis and formulate their treatment plan

This is is how the American Medical Association defines 90791 in the official CPT codebook:

Psychiatric diagnostic evaluation (without medical services)

Psychiatric diagnostic evaluation is an integrated biopsychosocial assessment, including history, mental status, and recommendations.

The evaluation may include communication with family or other sources and review and ordering of diagnostic studies.

This code is most frequently used by:

  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)
  • Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC)
  • Licensed Marriage Family Therapists (LMFT)

Your documentation for this code should include all the standard elements of an intake note, including:

  • Session details: Including start and stop times, and the date and place of service
  • History of present illness
  • Bio-psycho-social assessment
  • Mental status exam
  • Risk assessment
  • Initial plan of treatment

Complete documentation for 90791 should include both the intake note and your full assessment, whether you choose to conduct a general bio-psycho-social assessment, or a diagnostic-specific assessment like PHQ-9 for depression, GAD 7 for anxiety, or the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C) for substance abuse.

“The actual assessment can be structured or non structured, whatever the style of the therapist is,” says Innocent Turner, LCSW, Headway’s Clinical Quality and Strategy Manager. “But if you only submit the intake note, that causes a lot of denials, because the note will refer to an assessment that isn’t there.”

It’s important to use the code that most accurately reflects the time you spent with the patient to treat their condition, and ensure that documentation for the session supports the chosen code. 

CPT code 90791 time frame

The code 90791 is not associated with any specific time component. But an intake session is usually 45 minutes, by most clinical standards, due to the complexity of conducting a full assessment. 

CPT code 90791 reimbursement rates

Reimbursement rates for sessions billed with 90791 will vary depending on the plan, your contract, your location, and your license type. 

How often can CPT code 90791 be billed for one client?

Most payers will only reimburse 90791 once per year, per client.

Code 90791 cannot be reported on the same day as an evaluation and management service for the same patient, or on the same day as psychotherapy services (including for crisis). 

What’s the difference between 90791 and 90792?

Code 90791 is used to represent an intake assessment for care that does not include medical services.

In contrast, code 90792 is used for an intake assessment for care that does include medical services, such as ordering diagnostic work or prescribing medications. For this reason, 90792 can only be billed by a qualified licensed provider like a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner. 

This document is intended for educational purposes only. It is designed to facilitate compliance with payer requirements and applicable law, but please note that the applicable laws and requirements vary from payer to payer and state to state. Please check with your legal counsel or state licensing board for specific requirements.

Headway is a free service that makes it easier and more profitable for therapists and psychiatrists to accept insurance.

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