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  • Writer's picturePatientStudio

The CQ Modifier - A Billing Guide for Physical Therapy Assistants (PTAs)

The role of Physical Therapy Assistants (PTAs) is crucial in providing quality care to patients. As PT clinic owners seek to maximize their impact and revenue, the utilization of PTAs has become a common practice. However, when it comes to billing, many clinic owners are unsure about the proper procedures and regulations. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the details of the CQ Modifier, which is essential for billing services provided by PTAs. We will explore the rules and requirements set by Medicare and private insurance, ensuring that your practice remains compliant. Let's dive in!

Understanding the CQ Modifier

The CQ Modifier is an essential billing modifier that must be utilized when PTAs are providing services. It was introduced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to ensure accurate reimbursement for services rendered by PTAs. This two-letter code (modifier) identifies the involvement of a PTA in the delivery of care. By using the CQ Modifier appropriately, PTAs and clinics can adhere to Medicare regulations and receive proper reimbursement for their services.

Is Reimbursement Different For PTAs?

Yes, reimbursement for PTAs is different than that of a physical therapist. Medicare and private insurance companies have different guidelines and payment amounts for services rendered by PTAs. The CQ Modifier indicates to the payer that the service was provided by a PTA as opposed to a physical therapist.

How Much Is Reimbursement Reduced For PTAs?

The exact amount of reimbursement for PTAs varies depending on the insurance company and the type of service provided. CMS released its 2022 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS), which specified updates PTA reimbursement. service is furnished by an assistant, CQ and CO modifiers will be paid at 85%, or a 15% reduction in reimbursement.

female PT assisting female patient with banded shoulder exercise

Key Rules for CQ Modifier Application

To ensure proper utilization of the CQ Modifier, PTAs and clinic owners must understand the key rules and requirements. Let's explore these rules in detail:

Rule 1: De Minimis Standard

CMS has established the de minimis standard to determine when the CQ Modifier should be applied. According to this standard, if a PTA provides more than 10% of a service, the corresponding claim line must contain the CQ Modifier. This means that if the PTA's contribution exceeds 10% of the total service time, the CQ Modifier is necessary for accurate billing.

Rule 2: Timed Services

For timed services, where the duration of the service is measured in minutes, the CQ Modifier should be applied if the PTA independently provided care for a longer duration than calculated using the de minimis standard. The calculation relies on the total number of minutes a PTA independently furnished a service, compared to the total number of minutes the service was furnished as a whole.

Rule 3: Split Services

In certain scenarios, a service may be split between a therapist and a PTA. In such cases, the service can be divided into separate claim lines with appropriate application of the CQ Modifier. This allows for accurate billing and reimbursement based on the contribution of each provider.

Rule 4: Tandem Treatments

When a therapist and a PTA provide a service simultaneously to the same patient, the CQ Modifier is not required. This rule applies to co-treatment situations where both providers are actively involved in delivering care.

Applying the CQ Modifier: Step-by-Step Guide

To ensure accurate application of the CQ Modifier, let's walk through a step-by-step guide for billing services provided by PTAs. By following these guidelines, PTAs and clinic owners can navigate the complexities of billing and meet the requirements set by Medicare.

Step 1: Determine Full Units of Timed Services

Start by assigning full units of timed services. If a PTA or therapist has provided a complete 15-minute unit of service, assign that unit accordingly. This step ensures accurate calculation of service units for billing purposes.

Step 2: Assign Remaining Units of Split Timed Services

In cases where there are two or more billable units remaining, and both the therapist and the PTA have contributed between 9 and 14 minutes each, the remaining units can be split between the two providers. This step ensures fair distribution of billing units based on individual contributions.

Step 3: Assign the Final Billable Unit

When only one billable unit remains after the previous steps, it is essential to determine whether the therapist or the PTA should be assigned the final unit. For timed services, if the therapist has provided at least 8 minutes of service for the final unit, the CQ Modifier is not necessary. However, if the therapist has not met the 8-minute threshold, the CQ Modifier should be applied. For untimed services, if the PTA has provided at least 10% of the total service time, the CQ Modifier is required.

Step 4: Consider the 8-Minute Rule

Aside from the calculations involved in applying the CQ Modifier, it is important to consider the 8-Minute Rule. This rule stipulates that only one timed unit of service can be billed for every 15 minutes spent providing timed services. By adhering to this rule, PTAs and clinics can ensure accurate billing and avoid potential issues with reimbursement.

Billing Examples

Let's explore some billing examples to illustrate the application of the CQ Modifier in different scenarios. These examples will provide further clarity on how to properly bill services provided by PTAs.

Example 1: Timed Code, Single Unit

A PTA provides 10 minutes of therapeutic exercise (97110), followed by a PT who provides the remaining 5 minutes. The total time for this service is 15 minutes, qualifying for a single unit.

Solution: Bill one unit of 97110 with the CQ Modifier.

Example 2: Timed Code, Single Unit

A PTA provides 5 minutes of therapeutic exercise (97110), and then a PT provides an additional 6 minutes. The total time for this service is 11 minutes, qualifying for a single unit.

Solution: Bill one unit of 97110 with the CQ Modifier.

Example 3: Timed Code, Three Units

A PTA provides 22 minutes of therapeutic exercise (97110), followed by a PT who provides 23 more minutes. The total time for this service is 45 minutes, qualifying for three units.

Solution: Bill one unit of 97110 with the CQ Modifier, and two units of 97110 without the modifier.

Example 4: Separate Timed Codes, Three Units

A PT provides 12 minutes of therapeutic exercise (97110), followed by a PTA who provides an additional 14 minutes. The PT then provides 20 minutes of manual therapy (97140). The total time for this service is 46 minutes, qualifying for three units.

Solution: Bill one unit of 97140 without the CQ Modifier, one unit of 97110 with the CQ Modifier, and one unit of 97110 without the CQ Modifier.

Example 5: Single Unit, Untimed Code

An OTA provides 20 minutes of group therapy (97150), followed by an OT who provides another 20 minutes. The total time for this session is 40 minutes.

Solution: Bill one unit of 97150 with the CQ Modifier.

Additional Considerations and FAQ

In addition to the rules and examples provided, there are a few more considerations and frequently asked questions regarding the CQ Modifier. Let's address these to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the topic:

Is the CQ Modifier mandatory for all PTAs?

Yes, the CQ Modifier is mandatory for all PTAs when billing for Medicare Part B reimbursements. However, it is important to note that private or commercial payers may have different requirements, and the modifier used may vary.

Does the CQ Modifier rule apply to all outpatient facilities?

Yes, the CQ Modifier rule applies to all outpatient facilities, including private practices, physician offices, rehab agencies, CORFs, SNF Part B, HHA Part B, and hospital outpatient departments. Critical Access Hospitals, however, are exempt from this rule.

Is additional documentation required when using the CQ Modifier?

No. While CMS has not specified any additional documentation requirements for the CQ Modifier, it is always advisable to maintain defensible documentation. This documentation should support and justify the billing choices made, ensuring compliance and transparency.

How can an EMR platform assist with CQ Modifier compliance?

EMR platforms, such as PatientStudio, can be invaluable in ensuring compliance with the CQ Modifier. These platforms can automatically apply the units and modifiers to applicable charges, removing the headache and time calculations.


The CQ Modifier is a necessary tool when billing for services provided by PTAs. By understanding and adhering to the rules and guidelines set by CMS, PT clinics can ensure compliance and proper reimbursement for their services. With this comprehensive guide, you are equipped with the knowledge and steps necessary to navigate the complexities of the CQ Modifier. By utilizing the CQ Modifier effectively, PTAs can continue to play a crucial role in delivering high-quality care to patients while maintaining financial stability and compliance with Medicare regulations.

Tired of calculating units and applying CQ Modifiers? Check out how PatientStudio can help with automated charge capture and modifier assignment.

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