Humana’s latest list of physical therapy services it won't cover may not have changed much, but that doesn't mean the limitations should continue, according to APTA. The association recently voiced its concerns over the ways the health insurer characterizes physical therapy, its imprecise terminology, and its continued noncoverage of aquatic physical therapy and group physical therapy.
The APTA letter was sparked by the release of the latest updates to Humana's medical coverage policy, which has drawn attention in the physical therapy community because of a list of services it says it may not cover. That list includes aquatic therapy, group therapy sessions, sensory integration, community/work reintegration, and work hardening/conditioning.
While disappointing for physical therapists (PTs) and their patients, the coverage limitations themselves aren't new, according to Alice Bell, PT, DPT, senior payment specialist at APTA. Bell was part of a payment and practice management staff team that reviewed the policy.
"The latest update from Humana changed very little from the policy in place in 2017 and earlier," Bell said. "Noncoverage of aquatic therapy, group therapy, and work hardening dates back to at least 2014."
Still, that doesn't mean the policy is acceptable, in APTA's view. Earlier this month, APTA sent a letter to Humana that specifically cites aquatic therapy and group therapy as services that should be covered.
"Evidence demonstrates that for some patients the progression to land-based exercise and functional movement is effectively facilitated through the use of aquatic therapy," the letter states. When it comes to group therapy, APTA asserts that for certain conditions and patient populations, "the psychosocial benefits of peer support and group interaction can serve to enhance the therapeutic experience and impact," adding that it's distinct from group exercise in its integration into an overall skilled plan of care aimed at optimizing the effectiveness of therapy.
The APTA letter also points out other areas in which Humana uses sloppy language or just plain gets it wrong. One example: Humana's description of exercise as a modality. "Modalities are passive interventions," the association reminds Humana. "Therapeutic exercise is an active aspect of therapy."
APTA also describes Humana's statement that "[physical therapy] procedures in general include therapeutic exercises and joint mobilization" as an "extremely narrow" characterization of the profession.
"Representing the interventions in such a limited way in the description of the practice fails to acknowledge the breadth and depth of the profession, the therapeutic benefit to the patient, and the services covered under the current policy," the letter states. "APTA would like to highlight that the core of skilled physical therapist practice lies in the evaluation, reevaluation, and implementation of therapeutic procedures."
"Humana has taken some positive steps, particularly when it lifted prior authorization requirements for physical therapy earlier in the year," Bell said. "The latest coverage policy updates do not move any issues forward—or backward for that matter. That's why APTA will continue to advocate for changes that better serve patients."