Improvement Standard Update: New Medicare Policy Manuals Released

Industry Updates, Referring to Home Health
Regulations under Affordable Care Act has led to 130,000 fewer 30-day Medicare hospital readmissions in the first 8 months of 2013.

Regulations under Affordable Care Act has led to 130,000 fewer 30-day Medicare hospital readmissions in the first 8 months of 2013.

CMS has revised its Medicare policy manuals to ensure coverage for skilled maintenance care, reflecting the “Jimmo vs. Sebelius” settlement, reports the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

The Jimmo settlement ends a longstanding practice denying Medicare coverage to people who had “plateaued,” or were “chronic,” or “stable,” or “not likely to improve.” The Manual revisions, which clarify that improvement is not required to obtain Medicare coverage, were published by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on Friday December 6, 2013. They pertain to care in Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (IRF), Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF), Home Health care (HH), and Outpatient Therapies (OPT).

As CMS states in the transmittal announcing the Jimmo Manual revisions:

“No ‘Improvement Standard’ is to be applied in determining Medicare coverage for maintenance claims that require skilled care. Medicare has long recognized that even in situations where no improvement is possible, skilled care may nevertheless be needed for maintenance purposes (i.e., to prevent or slow a decline in condition). The Medicare statute and regulations have never supported the imposition of an ‘Improvement Standard’ rule-of-thumb in determining whether skilled care is required to prevent or slow deterioration in a patient’s condition. Thus, such coverage depends not on the beneficiary’s restoration potential, but on whether skilled care is required, along with the underlying reasonableness and necessity of the services themselves. The manual revisions now being issued will serve to reflect and articulate this basic principle more clearly.”

Per the Jimmo Settlement, CMS will now implement an Education Campaign to ensure that Medicare determinations for SNF, Home Health, and Outpatient Therapy turn on the need for skilled care – not on the ability of an individual to improve. For IRF patients, the Manual revisions and CMS Education Campaign clarify that coverage should never be denied because a patient cannot be expected to achieve complete independence in self-care or to return to his/her prior level of functioning.

“As with components of all settlement agreements, the Jimmo revisions are not perfect,” says Judith Stein, Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “But they do make it absolutely clear that skilled care is covered by Medicare for therapy and nursing to maintain a patient’s condition or slow decline – not just for improvement.”

Read revisions and “MLN Matters” article.