Nursing home operators will have to cut the amount of therapy services they can offer, thanks to Medicare payment cuts slated to start Jan. 1, a top industry expert said in renewing warnings Monday. 

A 9% cut to payments for physical and occupational therapy was included in the Proposed Physician Fee Schedule Rule for 2021 announced by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in early August. The cuts would become effective Jan. 1, 2021, with the start of the new fiscal year and comes after therapy providers took an 8% cut last year.

In a new op-ed on Monday in The Hill, Cynthia Morton, executive vice president of the National Association for the Support of Long Term Care (NASL), forecast a potentially dire future.

“The cuts sought by CMS are significant and deep and will have a damaging effect on nursing home residents’ access to rehabilitation, physician services and diagnostic testing,” Morton wrote. “For nursing home residents who need care, these cuts will result in less physical therapy to build up strength, potentially depriving them of the full benefit of relearning how to walk.”

NASL, along with several other long-term care and therapy groups, denounced the planned cuts when they were first announced. Advocates warned that audiologists are slated for a 7% cut and speech-language pathologists will see a 9% cut. 

Morton explained that the decreased payments would not only create barriers to residents receiving care, but also “essentially reduce” occupational therapy services that providers can offer. 

“Healthcare providers serving nursing facility residents cannot sustain cuts of this size, and we cannot risk a decrease in important care for our patients,” Morton warned. 

“And during an ongoing pandemic is not the time we should have to worry about our older, vulnerable loved ones losing critical health care services,” she concluded.