Physical therapists (PTs) in private practice may be able to provide Medicare patients the continuity of care they deserve if a recently introduced bill is successful. The federal Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act of 2013 (HR 3426) would make it possible for PTs to bring in other licensed physical therapists during absences to avoid gaps in care and costs to practice.
The bill was introduced October 30 by Reps Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Gus Billirakis (R-FL), and seeks to expand so-called locum tenens arrangements to include PTs. This arrangement would allow a physical therapist to bring in another licensed physical therapist to treat Medicare patients and bill Medicare through the practice provider number when he or she is temporarily absent due to illness, pregnancy, vacation, or continuing medical education. Current law only extends locum tenens to doctors of medicine, osteopathy, dental surgery, podiatric medicine, optometry, and chiropractic.
Because locum tenens arrangements are not granted to PTs under current law, PTs in private practice are forced to risk gaps in patient care should they be absent, or must avoid such absences altogether. The need for locum tenens for PTs in rural areas is particularly great, where a small private practice may be the only source for physical therapy for miles. Should a PT in such a setting need to be absent, the entire practice could be forced to shut down temporarily, leaving Medicare patients with limited choices for nearby care.
This legislation came from a collaborative effort between APTA and the Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association (PPS) to provide relief for private practitioners and continuity of service for Medicare beneficiaries. APTA President Paul Rockar Jr, PT, DPT, MS, sees HR 3426 as another example of what can be accomplished when PTs work together. "This legislative collaboration between APTA and PPS reconfirms our commitment to advocate for sensible solutions to challenges seen by physical therapists in private practice," said Rockar. "We look forward to working with PPS on the hill to move this bill forward."
PPS President Tom DiAngelis, PT, DPT, describes the bill as legislation that "seeks to eliminate an unnecessary limitation on our ability to practice and provide excellent continuous care. We commend congressmen Lujan and Bilirakis for taking an important step to ensure a patient’s access to uninterrupted physical therapy."
APTA has advocated for this issue to be linked to larger Medicare reforms that may be moving through Congress, particularly the efforts to find a solution to the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula (.pdf) that determines Medicare payment rates. Congress has until December 31 to act to avoid a 24.4% decrease in Medicare reimbursement, though it is possible it will continue to address these reforms in 2014.
APTA will monitor the progress of the bill and will post updates to its locum tenens webpage. Resources on the website include a podcast on the importance of this legislation and information on how PTs can get involved in advocating for its passage.
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