Disabled patients could benefit from proposed Medicare change

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Thousands of Medicare patients with severe chronic illnesses like Alzheimer's would get continuing access to rehab and other services under a proposed settlement to a national class action suit.

Advocates say the change has been agreed to by the Obama administration but must still be finalized in court.

It would be a significant change from current policy, which says patients must show improvement to continue receiving Medicare coverage for physical and occupational therapy. That rules out people with chronic or progressive illnesses and those who are simply growing weaker because of advancing age.

One of the groups that challenged the policy is the Center for Medicare Advocacy. It argues that Medicare regulations were intended to allow people to maintain their health status, not necessarily get better. Even if a patient's underlying disease is advancing, therapy might be able to help them stay strong and take care of themselves.

The agreement is expected to affect tens of thousands -- maybe hundreds of thousands -- of patients nationally. The impact on Medicare's budget is unclear.

It could be several months before the settlement is approved, and perhaps another year before Medicare formally completes the policy change.

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