By Susan Saldibar

There is trouble ahead for physical and occupational therapy assistants (PTAs and OTAs) and for everyone who needs them.

And we need them!

Some of the best experiences I’ve had in my accident-prone life have been with either physician assistants, CNAs, or other clinical “assistants.” My sister has a friend who is a PTA, and I’ve picked her brain on a number of occasions (shoulder cracking, messed-up ankle, weird stuff going on with my left thumb, etc.).

These folks really know their stuff. They proved it during the pandemic.

I learned from the folks at Aegis Therapies (a Foresight partner) just how valuable PTAs and OTAs are, especially given our staffing crisis and during this pandemic, which just keeps going on and on.

To begin with, PTAs and OTAs have been the hardworking foot soldiers on the front line of the pandemic, often some of the few rehab personnel allowed access to residents. They were steadfast in their mission not to let seniors down during the pandemic. And they haven’t.

They’ve also been a godsend to patients in rural and other underserved areas because they were more available and more mobile.

And Then …

It was the ultimate win-win. Until January 1st, 2022.

That’s when Medicare Part B reimbursement for services delivered by PTAs and OTAs was reduced by 15%.

That’s a chunk of money not being reimbursed to providers of services to Medicare beneficiaries! And you know the possible ripple effect of that:

  • Loss of working hours (and hit to paychecks) for these hardworking professionals
  • A reduced presence in rural and underserved areas
  • More pressure on PTs and OTs to carry a heavier load
  • More seniors going without care
  • LTCs, SNFs struggling to cover therapy needs
  • Potential risk for poorer outcomes

This is what really hits a nerve with folks like Mark Besch, Aegis’ chief clinical officer, who wants to make this clear: “Our physical therapist assistants and occupational therapy assistants play a vital role in the delivery of rehabilitation care to our patients. Continued delivery of care is vital, and staffing levels are challenged, so now is not the time to reduce reimbursement.”

Taking Action

So here’s what Aegis, along with long-term care providers and therapists, are doing about it.

They are supporting a bipartisan bill called the Stabilizing Medicare Access to Rehabilitation and Therapy (SMART) Act (H.R.5536). The goal is to add it to the next government spending package that Congress must pass in March.

In a nutshell, here is what the bipartisan bill would do:

  1. Temporarily suspend (not repeal) the payment differential just for one year, to January 1, 2023. This will help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and the public health emergency. Even as the surge in case counts decreases during 2022, we anticipate that the labor shortages will take some time to recover. Temporarily suspending the differential until 2023 will help providers and their patients weather the current challenges.
  2. Provide an exemption to the differential for rural and underserved areas. Rural areas rely more heavily on rehab therapy assistants to provide access to care. In addition, rural areas face greater challenges in meeting workforce demand as recruitment and retention of qualified rehab therapists are more difficult in these areas.

We Need You

They need your help.

Mark says, “We are asking all of our staff as well as our customers, patients, and all interested individuals to join our advocacy efforts to Congress to address this issue and temporarily suspend this payment reduction.”

Okay, so it’s hard not to speak out on this issue.

Because, regardless of whether you run a long-term care or assisted living community, I think we can all acknowledge the unique role that PTAs and OTAs are continuing to fill in an environment where outcomes have become more critical than ever.

All that the folks at Aegis Therapies, along with other therapists and long-term care providers, are asking is to give them one more year to stabilize care delivery and staffing—a year that has already seen increases in hospitalization and with a still uncertain future.

You can access the letter drafted by Aegis on their advocacy platform here. The process takes about five minutes to complete, but you can take some extra time to edit the letter with specific information about why this issue is important to you and your community. You can also sign up for future advocacy initiatives with Aegis here