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Medicare Rehab Requirements Relaxed?

What does this mean? Imagine you have a severe stroke. Before Jimmo, most people thought Medicare would pay for physical therapy only as long as that PT was helping you get better. For instance, Medicare would pay if therapy helped increase the number of steps you could walk without assistance. Now, Medicare will pay for PT even if it only helps you maintain your current ability to walk.

Whenever the rules for receiving Medicare benefits change it has a real impact on real beneficiaries and patients. Sometimes legal changes occur literally overnight, while at other times the changes are more subtle. After a landmark lawsuit a year ago, there may be some tangible effects to the system - for the better. This is especially the case when an elderly loved one requires skilled nursing or physical therapy.

The landmark case was Jimmo v. Sebelius. Recently, Forbes explored the legal evolution Jimmosparked in an article titled "When Medicare Will Pay for Skilled Nursing or Physical Therapy."

The salient change concerns one of the guiding principles of Medicare, or at least what has been the common wisdom for years. This principle is the so-called "improvement standard." The idea was that Medicare would pay for skilled nursing care or physical therapy only when the patient's health had the potential to improve. Accordingly, the payments would cease when there was no more improvement to be had.

Problem: skilled nursing and physical therapy are not necessarily just for curing a problem, but for managing it, especially among the elderly. Jimmo, however, provides that payment for these services will be made if they are "reasonable and necessary to prevent or slow further deterioration" and that benefits "cannot be denied based on the absence of potential for improvement or restoration."

Real changes have been slow as providers test the waters, and all the other rules regarding skilled care are in place. Nonetheless, an apparent misunderstanding has been put to rest and an entire class of real beneficiaries and patients can now be assured of receiving benefits. Those previously denied benefits may even have the option of having their coverage re-reviewed.

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