Protect America’s Physical Therapy Patients & Providers During the COVID-19 Crisis
As our nation combats the COVID-19 pandemic, 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. Thanks to a new rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare beneficiaries will now have increased access to physical therapy through telehealth-based services. By providing skilled physical therapy services either via videoconference or phone call, therapists are able to offer care in a safe, efficient way that meets seniors’ needs, while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, preventing costly hospitalizations and reducing unnecessary strain on the healthcare system during this public health crisis.
The physical therapy community applauds this critical step by CMS to protect both physical therapy patients and the economic stability of physical therapy practices during this time. While physical therapists are relieved to see this barrier removed, long-term threats to physical therapy access remain.
Physical therapists have another great threat on the horizon:
A 9% payment cut to Medicare therapy services in 2021.
Despite unified warnings from lawmakers, specialty providers, and other stakeholders about the potentially devastating impact of these cuts, which were originally included in the final Proposed Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) Rule for CY2020, CMS nonetheless chose to move forward with across-the-board nine percent payment cuts to physical and occupational therapy services in the PFS Rule for CY2021.
This cut, coupled with a series of payment reductions in recent years, will undermine patient access and lead to negative downstream consequences for American seniors and healthcare delivery system costs. The United States is already in the middle of a national shortage of physical therapists – estimates show that by 2025, an additional 27,000 therapists will be needed to meet demand – and this cut will lead to even greater shortages if practices are forced to close due to dwindling reimbursement.
Now, during this unprecedented crisis, is not the time to implement a severe Medicare reimbursement cut.
Congressional action is urgently needed to give providers, including physical and occupational therapists, the critical financial relief they need to preserve practice operations and protect patient access to medically necessary care.