Skilled Therapy, When it's Appropriate and Billable

January 4th, 2018 - Find-A-Code
Categories:   Physical Medicine|Physical Therapy   Billing   Documentation Guidelines  

According to CGS Administrators,

"A service is not considered a skilled therapy service merely because it is furnished by a therapist or by a therapist/therapy assistant under the direct or general supervision, as applicable, of a therapist. If a service can be self-administered or safely and effectively furnished by an unskilled person, without the direct or general supervision, as applicable, of a therapist, the service cannot be regarded as a skilled therapy service even though a therapist actually furnishes the service. Similarly, the unavailability of a competent person to provide a non-skilled service, notwithstanding the importance of the service to the patient, does not make it a skilled service when a therapist furnishes the service.
Skilled therapy services may be necessary to improve a patient’s current condition, to maintain the patient’s current condition, or to prevent or slow further deterioration of the patient’s condition.

Services that do not require the professional skills of a therapist to perform or supervise are not medically necessary. The skills of a therapist may also be furnished by an appropriately trained and experienced physician or NPP, or by an assistant (PTA, OTA) appropriately supervised by a therapist. Therefore, if a patient’s therapy can proceed safely and effectively through a home exercise program, self management program, restorative nursing program or caregiver assisted program, payment cannot be made for therapy services. 
Consider the following points when determining if a service is skilled.

    • Rehabilitative therapy occurs when the skills of a therapist (as defined by the scope of practice for therapists in each state) are necessary to safely and effectively furnish a recognized therapy service, whose goal is improvement of an impairment or functional limitation.
      • The services shall be of such a level of complexity and sophistication or the condition of the patient shall be such that the services required can only be safely and effectively performed by a qualified clinician, or therapists supervising assistants.

    • Maintenance therapy occurs when the skills of a therapist (as defined by the scope of practice for therapists in each state) are necessary to safely and effectively furnish a recognized therapy service, whose goal is to maintain functional status or prevent or slow further deterioration in functional status.
        • If the specialized skill, knowledge, and judgement of a qualified therapist are required to establish or design a maintenance program to maintain the patient’s current condition or to prevent or slow further deterioration, the establishment or design of a maintenance program by a qualified therapist is covered.
        • If skilled therapy services by a qualified therapist are needed to instruct the patient or appropriate caregiver regarding the maintenance program, such instruction is covered.
        • If skilled therapy services are needed for periodic reevaluations or reassessments of the maintenance program, such periodic reevaluations or reassessments are covered.
        • Such skilled care is necessary for the performance of a safe and effective maintenance program only when;
          • The therapy procedures required to maintain the patient’s current function or to prevent or slow further deterioration are of such complexity and sophistication that the skills of a qualified therapist are required to furnish the therapy procedure or
          • The particular patient’s special medical complications require the skills of a qualified therapist to furnish a therapy service required to maintain the patient’s current function or to prevent or slow further deterioration, even if the skills of a therapist are not ordinarily needed to perform such therapy procedure.

      • Once a maintenance program is established, coverage of therapy services to carry out a maintenance program turns on the beneficiary’s need for skilled care. A maintenance program can generally be performed by the beneficiary alone or with the assistance of a family member, caregiver, or unskilled personnel. In such situations, coverage is not provided. However, skilled therapy services are covered when an individualized assessment of the patient’s clinical condition demonstrates that the specialized judgement, knowledge, and skills of a qualified therapist are necessary for the performance of safe and effective services in a maintenance program.

    • While a beneficiary’s particular medical condition is a valid factor in deciding if skilled therapy services are needed, a beneficiary’s diagnosis or prognosis should never be the sole factor in deciding that a service is or is not skilled. The key issue is whether the skills of a qualified therapist are needed to treat the illness or injury, or whether the service(s) can be carried out by non-skilled personnel.
    • If at any point in the treatment it is determined that the treatment becomes repetitive and does not require the unique skills of a therapist, the services are non-covered.
    • There may be circumstances where the patient, with or without the assistance of an aide or other caregiver, does activities planned by a clinician. Although these activities may be supportive to the patient’s treatment, if they can be done by the patient, aides or other caregivers without the active participation of qualified professional/auxiliary personnel, they are considered unskilled.
    • An individualized plan of exercise and activity for patients and their caregiver(s) may be developed by clinicians to maintain and enhance a patient’s progress during the course of skilled therapy, as well as after discharge from therapy services. Such programs are an integral part of therapy from the start of care and should be expected and modified as the patient progresses.
      • If a patient’s limited ability to comprehend instructions, follow directions, or remember skills that are necessary to achieve an increase in function, is so severe as to make functional improvement very unlikely, rehabilitative therapy is not required, and therefore, is not covered. However, limited services in these circumstances may be covered with supportive documentation, if the skills of a therapist are required to establish and teach a caregiver a safety or maintenance program.

      • This does not apply to the limited situations where rehabilitative therapy is reasonable and achieving meaningful goals is appropriate, even when a patient does not have the ability to comprehend instructions, follow directions or remember skills. Examples include sitting and standing balance activities that help a patient recover the ability to sit upright in a seat or wheel-chair, or safely transfer from the wheelchair to a toilet.
      • This also does not apply to those patients who have the potential to recover abilities to remember or follow directions, and treatment may be aimed at rehabilitating these abilities, such as following a traumatic brain injury.

  • The use of therapy equipment such as therapeutic pools or gym machines alone does not necessarily make the treatment skilled.
  • Medicare does not cover packaged or predetermined therapy services or programs, such as Back Schools or pre-operative joint classes with preset educational activities and exercises for all participants involved. Services must be individualized, medically necessary and require the unique skills of a therapist. (Packaged or predetermined therapy services do not apply to post-surgical protocols that provide ranges and guidance.)"

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