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New medical codes to be delayed

Tuesday - 2/14/2012, 4:48pm  ET

The medical and insurance worlds can relax. The complicated new system of alpha-numeric codes for illnesses, injuries, disease and treatments aren't coming as quickly as anticipated.

For many months, those industries have been consumed with the extraordinary task of upgrading their computer systems and internal protocol to handle the new system, which expands the current list of codes eightfold and was scheduled to go live in 2013. We wrote about it back in August, and the issue received national attention in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks later.

But on Tuesday, in a surprising and well-received announcement, the Obama administration told everyone to cool their heels, according to The Hill.

"I'm committing today to work with you to re-examine the pace at which we implement ICD-10," said Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, while speaking to the American Medical Association, The Hill reported.

"I want to work together to ensure that we implement ICD-10 in a way that [meets its] goals while recognizing your concerns," she added. Tavenner said the agency would release a formal announcement on its intentions to change the regulations within days, The Hill said.

ICD-10, which stands for the 10th edition of the International Classification of Diseases, has always been a flashpoint between health care policy experts and on-the-ground medical practitioners. The policy wonks say the current coding system hasn't kept up with modern medicine and data analysis capabilities, while doctors, hospitals and insurance companies say the changeover is just too much to handle — especially considering all the other health care reforms.

Personally, I've already heard from several doctors already today, overjoyed with the news. "This is a VERY GOOD thing," wrote one Montgomery County specialist. "Docs are stressed enough with competing [electronic medical records], e-prescribing, looming Medicare cuts, etc. Maybe we get a little breathing room."