This website is about being a traveling therapist, right? Then, why so often, do I get myself off-topic blogging and twittering about issues in PT and healthcare? Answer: Because I like it. Only once in a long while do the stars of the interweb align so that I can write about travel therapy and healthcare issues at the same time.
We call ourselves travelers. Traveling therapists, traveling nurses, travel PT or OT assistants – we are all “travelers”. But not MD’s, they, call themselves locum tenens, or just locum for short. Locum!? What the heck does that mean? locum tenens; locum – place, tenens – to hold; all together now, “Place holder”. Turns out locum tenens is actually a Medicare term that applies to someone temporarily filling in for another provider. When someone qualifies to work as a locum, they are able to skip a lengthy credentialing process to be able to bill Medicare patients. The list of providers that are currently eligible for locum status during temporary employment include Physicians, Dentists, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and Physician Assistants (PAs).
There is a Medicare bill currently working its way through congress that would extend locum tenens status to Physical Therapists in certain situations. Currently, in PT private practices, if a temporary therapist is brought in, it can take 3 months to be able to bill to Medicare under their own NPI. Most private practices doing their billing above board and truly the “right” way avoid travelers for this reason. I’m not sure what happens when a private practice hires a therapist through an agency – what I believe happens, is that the private practice bills under one therapist’s NPI. The practice of billing for an entire practice under one NPI, as far as I am aware, is frowned upon, but not illegal. I have done a couple independent contracts with private practices who have made me become in-network at their facility with Medicare, it’s a long process (2-3 months), mostly paperwork, and discourages a lot of employers from getting involved with short-term staff. This bill could change the whole arrangement.
This new Medicare/locum tenens bill, titled the Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act (House bill: H.R. 556 and Senate bill: S. 313) would create some exceptions for certain PT private practices. The bill, if passed, would decrease interruptions in patient care that may occur through a PT’s temporary absence due to illness, pregnancy, vacation, or for continuing ed by allowing practices to hire PTs on a locum tenens basis. That would cut out the whole Medicare credentialing process that currently takes place when hiring a temporary PT. While this bill is certainly patient-centric, I do see a secondary opportunity here for travelers. If there’s a current process that inhibits some clinics from taking on travelers (Medicare credentialing), and that process is eased, there’s a lot of opportunity for an increase in the number of available travel assignments. As this bill stands in the Senate, locum tenens status would only be allowed in areas designated as non-Metropolitan Statistical Areas, or areas designated as Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs) and/or Health Professions Shortage Areas (HPSAs) – that’s a lot of private practice clinics that could soon hire temporary employees with less fuss when billing through Medicare. Ideally, the bill would be amended to include ALL areas in the country, not just those of special designation – that would be pretty sick. (it’s a Medical pun, get it?) Be sure to let your Senators know that ALL Medicare beneficiaries deserve uninterrupted access to PT, not just those in underserved areas.
All traveling PTs, everyone in private practice, and all recruiters should be pretty psyched about this bill and should definitely be contacting their Congress Men and Women today. Jump over to APTA’s website to get more information on the bill. From there, you can link straight on over to contact your Senators and Representatives. Get on it now!
SLPs and OTs, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you. If the legislative bug gets you revved up, you have good resources to contact the people who represent you in congress. For OTs: http://capwiz.com/aota/home/ and for SLPs: http://takeaction.asha.org/
I do get fired up about issues, and this one is more special to travelers than most issues are. It was too good not to write about, but I realize healthcare politics can get a little dry. I promise more excitement in my next post!