"Physical therapy is not a subspecialty of the medical profession and physical therapists are not medical doctors; we are a separate profession that provides a unique service that physicians are unable and untrained to provide."

Letter to the AMA from the APTA, Dec 2009

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Maintenance #PhysicalTherapy Paid by Medicare?

This may be the biggest change to Medicare affecting physical therapists since the March 23rd, 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Medicare may now be forced to adhere to the statutory language enacted by the Congress instead of the more restrictive policies adopted by individual Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) who limited therapy services because the patient did not show progress.

In other words, Medicare may now be forced to pay for "Maintenance Therapy".

A proposed settlement announced today at 2pm by the Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA) will be held in Washington DC. According to the CMA:
"Under the agreement, which amounts to a significant change in Medicare coverage rules, Medicare will pay for such services if they are needed to 'maintain the patient’s current condition or prevent or slow further deterioration,' regardless of whether the patient’s condition is expected to improve."
Physical therapists have long been told by Medicare Auditors that we must discharge our patients when they "plateau" and their function no longer improves. To be sure, physical therapists shouldn't use today's decision to ignore equally challenging documentation guidelines. Physical therapists still need to show "skilled physical therapy" and "medical necessity for physical therapy". This New York Times article discusses some of the new cost implications to Medicare of maintenance therapy.

However, the CMA has removed a significant barrier to care between physical therapists and their patients.
"For decades, Medicare beneficiaries – particularly those with long-term or debilitating conditions and those who need rehabilitation services – have been denied necessary care based on a so-called “improvement standard.” 

This illegal practice means that Medicare coverage for vital care is denied to thousands of individuals on the grounds that their condition is stable, chronic, not improving, or that the necessary services are for “maintenance only”. 

The Improvement Standard conflicts with the law."
This decision will impact patients and physical therapists in most settings, including the private practice physical therapy clinic, the home health setting, skilled nursing and the hospital outpatient setting.

What do you think? Are you in favor of Medicare paying for maintenance therapy?

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Tim Richardson, PT owns a private practice at Medical Arts Rehabilitation, Inc in Palmetto, Florida. The clinic website is at MedicalArtsRehab.com.

Bulletproof Expert Systems: Clinical Decision Support for Physical Therapists in the Outpatient Setting is a manager's workbook with stories, checklists, charts, graphs, tables, and templates describing how you can use paper-based or computerized tools to improve your clinic's Medicare compliance, process adherence and patient outcomes.

Tim has implemented a computerized Clinical Decision Support (CDS) system in his clinic since 2006 that serves as a Reminder, Alerting, Prompting and Predicting CDS using evidence-based tests and measures.

Tim can be reached at
TimRichPT@BulletproofPT.com .

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