Physical therapy helps Leon Beers get out of bed in the morning and maneuver around his home using his walker. Other treatment strengthens the 73-year-old man's throat muscles so that he can swallow food more easily, says Beers' sister, Karen Morse. But in mid-January, his home health care agency told Morse it could no longer provide these services because he had used all his therapy benefits allowed under Medicare for the year.
Beers, a retired railroad engineer who lives outside Sacramento, Calif., has a form of Parkinson's disease. The treatments help slow his condition's destructive progress and "he will need it for the rest of his life," Morse says.
Under a recent revision in federal law, Medicare patients who qualify for these services will no longer lose them solely because they used too much.
"It is a great idea," says Beers. "It will help me get back to walking."
It's also one of several important provisions tucked into the federal budget agreement approved by Congress last month that could improve the health of 59 million Americans who have Medicare, the federal health insurance program for older or disabled adults. Here are three of the key changes, and a bit more about what each means for patients.
Expands Medicare's coverage of physical, occupational and speech therapy
The two-year budget deal removes annual caps on how much Medicare pays for physical, occupational or speech therapy and streamlines the medical review process. It applies to people in traditional Medicare as well as those with private Medicare Advantage policies.