Congress and the Administration Must Protect America’s Seniors & Healthcare Jobs
As our nation combats the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that our lawmakers and the Administration ensure skilled care remains available for the millions of patients who rely on physical therapy services to manage their post-operative care, pain, immobility and fall risk.
Telehealth services represent a major piece of the puzzle for ensuring continued access to physical therapy during this crisis. The stories below highlight physical therapists’ concerns and the critical need for care:
“My patient was referred to physical therapy after having a L4-L5 lumbar fusion surgery. She attended two PT sessions and called us to cancel her remaining visits because she has asthma and does not want to risk her health by coming into the clinic. While we could potentially reach her in the home, our shortage in PPE prevents us from reaching patients in the home out of caution for our health and the health of our patients. Allowing me to reach her via telehealth or e-visits would be a great avenue for me to help address her limitations and support functional ability progression.”
“My patient just underwent a total knee replacement at the end of February. Due to her underlying conditions, she reasonably fears visiting the clinic because of COVID-19. We have considered home traveling to administer therapy, but we are unable to safely do so due to PPE shortages in our region. She would benefit greatly from guided telehealth stretching, partner assisted manual therapy (using her husband), and extensive guidance on dosage of exercise, swelling management, and other care concepts. Unfortunately, she cannot access these services via telehealth due to lack of Medicare coverage for the service.”
“A patient came to therapy earlier this year because of weakness and deconditioning after a prolonged two-month hospital stay. His physical therapy in the clinic focused on building strength, endurance, mobility, and balance to keep him safely participating in home and community activities. Due to COVID-19 fears, coupled with a compromised immune system resulting from a history of lung cancer, he hasn’t been to the clinic for therapy in two weeks. Telephone check-ins reveal he is feeling weaker and not remaining active.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was recently passed into law, empowered Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to dramatically expand coverage for telehealth services. CMS has taken action to expand the use of telehealth for many important patient services, including therapy, but physical therapists are not yet eligible for reimbursement for these services.
CMS must immediately issue a waiver to allow physical and occupational therapists to provide telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries. Unless the agency acts quickly, seniors on Medicare will continue to be cut off from therapy services, which could lead to disastrous clinical outcomes.
You can help protect seniors by acting now. Submit a comment letter to CMS urging them to allow physical and occupational therapists to provide telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 crisis.