Kusserow on Compliance: CMS improperly paid $367M for outpatient physical therapy

The OIG issued an audit report that found sixty-one percent of Medicare claims for outpatient physical therapy services reviewed did not comply with Medicare medical necessity, coding, or documentation requirements, resulting in an estimated overpayment of $367 million for outpatient physical therapy services that did not comply with Medicare requirements. These overpayments occurred because CMS controls were not effective in preventing improper payments for outpatient physical therapy services. The Medicare Part B program paid approximately $2 billion for outpatient physical therapy services provided to beneficiaries and past OIG reviews of individual physical therapy providers identified claims for outpatient physical therapy services that were not reasonable, medically necessary, or properly documented.  The OIG analyzed a stratified random sample of 300 outpatient claims for physical therapy services. The OIG’s stated objective was to determine whether Medicare claims for outpatient physical therapy services complied with Medicare requirements. Errors identified fell under three categories:

  1. Services that were not medically necessary, including services which were not reasonable—there was no evidence that the services would be effective, the services did not require the skills of a therapist, or there was not expectation of significant improvement.
  2. Coding did not meet medical requirements—timed units claimed did not match units in treatment notes; missing modifiers; and incorrect codes.
  3. Documentation did not meet Medicare requirement—plan-of-care deficiencies; treatment note deficiencies; and recertification deficiencies.

The OIG recommended CMS: (1) instruct the Medicare contractors to notify providers of potential overpayments so that those providers can exercise reasonable diligence to investigate and return any identified overpayments, (2) establish mechanisms to better monitor the appropriateness of outpatient physical therapy claims, and (3) educate providers about Medicare requirements for submitting outpatient physical therapy claims for reimbursement. CMS generally disagreed with these findings and believes further analysis of the sampled claims is warranted to determine whether the claims met Medicare requirements, according to the report.


Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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