Legislation Introduced to Allow Occupational Therapists to Conduct Initial Assessment for Therapy-Only Care
December 31, 2015 08:38 AM
On December 8, 2015, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a bipartisan bill, the Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act of 2015 (S. 2364),to allow occupational therapists to conduct the initial home health assessment for certain rehabilitation cases under Medicare’s home health benefit. Occupational therapists currently cannot conduct the initial assessment, even in situations when the physician has ordered only occupational therapy.
Senator Cardin, in introducing the legislation, stated that the bill would help ensure that Medicare beneficiaries receive timely access to essential home health therapy services. “Delays in therapy can mean delays in recovery for seniors in need,” said Senator Cardin, a member of the Senate Finance Health Care Subcommittee. “By permitting occupational therapists to perform initial home health assessments in limited circumstances, the Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act can help prevent delays in Medicare beneficiaries receiving essential home health therapy services. This is especially important in areas where access to physical therapists and speech language pathologists may be limited.”
Senator Heller stated that the change is particularly important in rural areas in Nevada and across the country. “In states like Nevada with many rural communities, Medicare beneficiaries depend on in-home occupational therapy. Unfortunately, there are barriers prohibiting them from receiving needed-treatment. The Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act is a simple fix that eliminates barriers, increases access, and reduces costs for those dependent on in-home health services,” said Senator Heller.
The legislation would not change current Medicare criteria for establishing eligibility for the home health benefit, and the bill would only allow occupational therapists to conduct the initial assessment in limited circumstances of rehabilitation-only cases, when skilled nursing is not included in the physician’s order. Under the legislation, an occupational therapist could conduct the initial assessment where the physician orders occupational therapy along with physical therapy and/or speech language pathology services. Nurses would still be required to conduct the initial assessment for all home health cases in which skilled nursing is ordered by the physician.
The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) supports the legislation as a means of making it easier for Medicare beneficiaries to receive home health occupational therapy services in a timely manner. Nearly one in five occupational therapists work in home health as their primary or secondary setting, and occupational therapists are integral participants in the home health team to maintain the independence and well-being of patients in their own homes.
Stay tuned to NAHC Report for additional information regarding this legislation.