In a major change in Medicare coverage rules, the Obama Administration has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit and end Medicare’s longstanding practice of requiring that beneficiaries with chronic conditions and disabilities show a likelihood of improvement in order to receive coverage of skilled care and therapy services.
The policy shift will affect beneficiaries with conditions like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, heart disease, and stroke.
For decades, home health agencies and nursing homes that contract with Medicare have routinely terminated the Medicare coverage of a beneficiary who has stopped improving, even though nothing in the Medicare statute or its regulations says improvement is required for continued skilled care. Advocates charged that Medicare contractors have instead used a “covert rule of thumb” known as the “Improvement Standard” to illegally deny coverage to such patients. Once beneficiaries failed to show progress, contractors claimed they could deliver only custodial care, which Medicare does not cover.