Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge Medicare to Remove Barriers to Physical Therapy Telehealth Services

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, physical and occupational therapists have been sounding the alarm on the urgent need for Medicare to expand seniors’ access to telehealth-based physical therapy services. It is critical that skilled care remains available for the millions of patients who rely on physical therapy services to manage their pain, post-operative care, mobility and risk of falling.

Recognizing beneficiaries’ needs to minimize risk of contracting the deadly novel coronavirus and adhere to state-mandated “stay at home” orders, while at the same time continuing to receive their doctor-prescribed therapy services in the safety of their own homes, therapy practitioners have called on Medicare to reimburse them for telehealth services.

Fortunately, Members of Congress have heard our concerns and are helping us make the case to policymakers. A bipartisan group of lawmakers — Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), Doris Matsui (D-CA), William Timmons (R-SC), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), David McKinley (R-WV), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), and Don Young (R-AK) — raised these concerns in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

In the letter, the Members of Congress urge Secretary Azar and Administrator Verma to utilize the powers granted to them by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to expand the types of providers eligible to deliver telehealth services under the Medicare program during the COVID-19 pandemic to include physical therapy practitioners, occupational therapy practitioners, speech language pathologists (SLPs), and audiologists.

“CMS has yet to issue a waiver allowing physical and occupational therapists, SLPs, and audiologists to be reimbursed for services under the Medicare telehealth benefit. In the Interim Final Rule, the agency acknowledges the outsized role these professionals hold in delivering medically necessary therapeutic care, stating, “the majority of the [therapy] codes are furnished over 90 percent of the time by therapy professionals.” Precluding therapy professionals from Medicare telehealth reimbursement would lead to a significant lack of access for beneficiaries relying on rehabilitative, habilitative, and audiologic care that is critical to living independently, participating in activities of daily living and maintaining overall positive health and well-being,” the lawmakers write.

APTQI applauds this group of lawmakers for advocating for the removal of critical Medicare barriers that threaten to prevent countless seniors from receiving the physical and occupational therapy they need. APTQI urges CMS to use its authority and immediately issue a waiver to allow physical and occupational therapists to provide telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 crisis.

You can send your own letter to CMS urging the administration to protect physical therapy patients. CLICK HERE to get started.