Tennessee Therapists Dish Out Dough for Putting Quantity Before Quality

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  • March 14, 2013
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A physical therapy (PT) operation in Tennessee has agreed to pay the federal government for medically unnecessary services.
Therapists have struggled with payment policies over the last three decades as legislative efforts have employed methods that “supposedly” aim to bring the cost of services down by paying for the quality, rather than quantity, of care. Lynn S. Berry, PT, CPC, said “Therapists must juggle clinical concerns with documentation burdens to meet the challenge” of reimbursement.
While most therapists are meeting these challenges, a few have bent under the pressure of lowered payments. For example, Grace Healthcare, LLC and its affiliate Grace Ancillary Services, LLC (Grace) in Chattanooga, Tenn. On March 8, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced that Grace’s therapy providers agreed to pay $2.7 million, plus interest, to resolve allegations of false billing for medically unnecessary therapy services.
According to the DOJ press release:

“The settlement resolves claims that in ten nursing home facilities in which Grace provided physical, occupational, and speech therapy for periods ranging from 2007 through June of 2011, Grace pressured therapists to increase the amount of therapy provided to patients in order to meet targets for Medicare revenue that were set without regard to patients’ individual therapy needs and could only be achieved by billing for a large amount of therapy per patient.”

Don’t let this happen to you. While waiting for more positive changes in the reimbursement system, there are things therapists can do to improve the current situation.

Properly Document when Using New G Codes and Severity Modifiers

To ensure you are compliant when rendering PT services, Berry’s recommendation is to “provide an audit trail by documenting in the medical record the G codes and severity modifiers, their rationale for use, and the pertinent tests provided. After the primary impairment goal is reached, a secondary impairment may be noted and treatment continued until the goal for that impairment is met or final discharge occurs. The G codes and modifiers apply to all claims in which Medicare is the primary or secondary payer.” The G codes and severity modifiers for PT, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology are noted in the 2013 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) Final Rule.

Will Payment Challenges Get Better for PTs?

There is positive action taking place on the horizon. According to Berry:

“For PT, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is already working on a new payment system. Their draft of an Alternative Payment System (APS), or the Physical Therapy Classification and Payment System (PTCPS), was released to members for comment March 15, 2012. The CPT® Editorial Panel in Memphis, Tenn., Oct. 2-3, 2012, fully supported their efforts. A workgroup will be started that is open to all advisors to rewrite the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Section of CPT®. This is a two-part, per session payment system: One set of codes for evaluations, and another set of per-session codes for treatments. Each combines consideration of the complexity of the visit and the severity or complexity of the patient’s condition. APTA expects this system to begin Jan. 1, 2015.”

When that system goes into effect, “therapists can then move forward to provide efficient, effective care for their patients and meet the challenge of high quality care at reasonable cost,” said Berry.
For more information on capturing proper reimbursement for therapy services, read the articles “Therapy Services: The Uphill Climb to Better Codes and Reimbursement” and “PTs Rise to 2013 G code Challenge” in March 2013 Cutting Edge.

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