APTQI Applauds Expansion of Telehealth-Based Physical Therapy Care to Vulnerable Medicare Beneficiaries
Washington, D.C. –– The Alliance for Physical Therapy Quality and Innovation (APTQI) today applauded the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for extending reimbursement eligibility for physical therapy appointments delivered through telehealth. The move comes after tireless advocacy efforts spearheaded by bipartisan lawmaker champions in Congress and physical therapy providers across the nation.
In documents issued on April 30, CMS included “COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Blanket Waivers for Health Care Providers,” which dramatically extends provider reimbursement eligibility for telehealth-based care services. The rule will enable Medicare coverage for telehealth services delivered by physical and occupational therapists.
Specifically, the CMS summary of flexibility for Medicare telehealth services states:
Eligible Practitioners. Pursuant to authority granted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) that broadens the waiver authority under section 1135 of the Social Security Act, the Secretary has authorized additional telehealth waivers. CMS is waiving the requirements of section 1834(m)(4)(E) of the Act and 42 CFR § 410.78 (b)(2) which specify the types of practitioners that may bill for their services when furnished as Medicare telehealth services from the distant site. The waiver of these requirements expands the types of health care professionals that can furnish distant site telehealth services to include all those that are eligible to bill Medicare for their professional services. This allows health care professionals who were previously ineligible to furnish and bill for Medicare telehealth services, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and others, to receive payment for Medicare telehealth services.
“First and foremost, we want to thank HHS Secretary Azar and CMS Administrator Verma for this critical step to ensure Medicare beneficiaries can access physical therapy services from the safety of their own homes,” said Nikesh Patel, PT, DPT, Executive Director of APTQI. “This latest action is an important recognition of the valuable services physical therapists can provide to support America’s most vulnerable patient populations – especially during a time of national health crisis.”
In commending federal healthcare officials, APTQI also applauded the decisive advocacy efforts of a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers for sending a letter to Secretary Azar requesting an extension of home-based telehealth reimbursement for physical therapy services. The letter, signed by 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), was sent just days before HHS implemented the much-needed change, underscoring the value of Congressional advocacy in the midst of a fast-moving public health emergency. Further, APTQI commends Representatives Cindy Axne (D-IA), Troy Balderson (R-OH) and French Hill (R-AR) for recently introduced legislation to allow Medicare patients to receive physical and occupational therapy via telehealth-based appointments.
Lastly, APTQI thanked physical therapy stakeholders across the nation who submitted more than 1,400 individual letters to federal health officials and Congressional lawmakers urging for expanded beneficiary access to telehealth-based physical therapy services. The letters helped solidify national advocacy efforts undertaken by APTQI to achieve this much-needed and pressing policy change.
“We cannot stress enough our appreciation for the physical therapy providers whose dedicated advocacy proved crucial in our fight to ensure patients can receive the care they need, when they need it. We have once again demonstrated the power of collective action, and we look forward to continuing our advocacy on behalf of the physical therapy community both during and after this once-in-a generation health crisis,” Patel concluded.
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