Senators Push Bipartisan Home Health Flexibility Bill

U.S. Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have partnered on The Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act of 2015 (S. 2364), a bipartisan bill meant to guarantee that Medicare beneficiaries receive timely access to essential home health therapy services.

The bill would permit occupational therapists to conduct the initial home health assessment in instances where occupational therapy is ordered by a doctor, along with physical therapy services and/or speech language pathology, and skilled nursing care is not needed.

“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,” Sen. Heller said in a prepared statement. “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.”

“Delays in therapy can mean delays in recovery for seniors in need,” added Sen. 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.”

Under current Medicare law, occupational therapists are not allowed to perform the initial assessment for home health cases, even when occupational therapy is included in the doctor’s order and when the case is exclusively related to rehabilitation therapy. As part of S. 2364, nurses would still be required to perform the initial assessment for all home health cases in which skilled nursing care is ordered by the doctor. The Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act would not change the current criteria for establishing eligibility for the Medicare home health benefit.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson