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Navigating the Money Maze: How SLP Services are Reimbursed in Different Settings

Navigating the Money Maze: How SLP Services are Reimbursed in Different Settings
Nancy B. Swigert, MA, CCC-SLP, BCS-S
May 27, 2016
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We are going to talk about the money maze. For clinicians, sometimes the whole concept of where money comes from is a bit removed from the fact that where the money comes from can determine what is on our paycheck. Whether you are a boss, a supervisor, a manager or a frontline clinician, in any healthcare setting, it is pretty important to understand how the money flows through the system. That, as I said, can have a direct impact on how we are paid.

My disclosures are that I received an honorarium for this presentation and I have published and presented numerous times on this topic.

Who Pays for SLP Services?

If we ask who pays for services, if we start at the bottom, the easiest is private pay. That is a clinic or a practice or an outpatient department where somebody is willing to write you a check or hand you a credit card or give you cash for the services that are rendered.

We will not spend any time on that, because there really are not any rules for that. You set your own fees, you determine how to collect the money, et cetera. I guess, in an ideal world, somebody might have a clinic that did nothing but private pay.

We are going to spend our time on the top three payers and those are Medicaid, Medicare and all of its parts, and private insurance. When you group all those together you call them “Third party payers.” I often wonder why they are not called second party payers, if the patient is the first party.  But I think it is that the patient is the first party, the provider is the second party, and now you have a third party kind of in the room with you, even though they are not physically represented, and that is the person that is paying for the service. That is why we call them third party payers.

Let's start with the big two, Medicaid and Medicare as healthcare payment systems. I want to start at the top with how laws are passed and how that trickles down to regulations that directly impact us. Congress is the one that passes a law to establish and modify big programs like Medicaid and Medicare, but of course, even though the laws that they write are sometimes as thick as telephone books, they cannot have all of the detail that is needed in order to administer the program.

Therefore, somebody needs to write regulations (we would call them rules) about all the different ins and outs of the program. For Medicaid and Medicare, that is turned over to an entity called the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, or CMS. It is a huge bureaucratic agency outside Baltimore, Maryland. I have had the chance to go there a couple of times for meetings. It is what you would picture: floor after floor of rooms around the outside, with windows where the managers sit. Then there is a huge room in the middle full of cubicle after cubicle. That is probably how you would picture a big bureaucracy that writes regulations, and you would be right.

Because it is probably really too much for CMS to totally administer these programs, they contract with insurance companies around the country that are called Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs). These MACs then run the program, usually over a couple of states. Although they have to follow all the national rules that are written, they sometimes write different, additional rules. As a result, there are different services that are covered in the southwest, for example, versus the northeast. They also write documents called Local Coverage Determinations or LCDs. If you see a Medicare patients and you have not seen an LCD, find out who at your facility gets that LCD and how to get your hands on it, because those contain very specific interpretations that would help you know what is and is not covered.


Medicaid started back in 1965 as part of Title 19 of the Social Security Act. This is something that Congress passed.  It was a partnership funded jointly between the states and the federal government.  More than half is funded by the federal government. It is in every state in the union and it provides free or low cost care for individuals who qualify: low incomes, families and children, women who are pregnant, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Federal law requires certain populations to be covered but then states can set individual eligibility criteria within those minimum standards; it give states flexibility to cover other optional eligibility groups. That is one of the things that makes it challenging in a course like this to talk about Medicaid in much detail, because I might share something about Kentucky Medicaid that would have nothing to do with Iowa Medicaid.

I am going to try to limit my comments about Medicaid to things that are standard across all the states. One of those is something called EPSDT or Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment. This is the mandatory service that pays for most of the therapies that are provided to children with Medicaid that we see.  I like to think of Medicaid as one great big bank account, but it has separate sub-accounts. There are sub-accounts where a certain amount of money would come to pay for something like therapies.

Other services are optional, like rehab and other different kinds of therapies. Each state’s Medicaid can decide if they are going to pay for those or not.

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nancy b swigert

Nancy B. Swigert, MA, CCC-SLP, BCS-S

Nancy B. Swigert is the former director of Speech-Language Pathology and Respiratory Care at Baptist Health Lexington at their acute care facility in Lexington, KY.  She is currently Coordinator for the Process Excellence Project at Baptist. She is a Board Recognized Specialist in swallowing and swallowing disorders.    She chaired the American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders from 2012-2014.

Her main clinical interests are in the area of pediatric and adult dysphagia. She lectures extensively in the areas of dysphagia and motor speech disorders. She also writes and lectures on coding, documentation and reimbursement. She served on ASHA’s Health Care Economics Committee for 9 years and chaired it for six.

She received her master’s degree from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.  She received the Honors of ASHA in 2015. 

Related Courses

Navigating the Money Maze: How SLP Services are Reimbursed in Different Settings
Presented by Nancy B. Swigert, MA, CCC-SLP, BCS-S
Course: #7618 1 Hour
Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers use different methods for reimbursing for therapy in each setting (e.g. acute care, skilled nursing facilities, outpatient). Understanding the basic rules of reimbursement helps the SLP meet the requirements. This course will provide a broad overview of these basics, with a particular focus on Medicare. This course is open-captioned.

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Presented by Nancy B. Swigert, MA, CCC-SLP, BCS-S
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Effective evaluation and management of dysphagia in adults requires thorough knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of swallowing and the relationship to the functions of respiration. Structures, functions and neurophysiology of the aerodigestive tract are discussed, including detailed information about cranial nerves.

Principles and Evidence: Treatment of Pharyngeal Dysphagia
Presented by Nancy B. Swigert, MA, CCC-SLP, BCS-S
Course: #7950 1.5 Hour
Planning and implementing successful treatment for dysphagia necessitates the use of appropriate compensatory, postural and rehabilitation strategies. Selection of appropriate treatment techniques requires an understanding of the principles of motor learning and the role of neuroplasticity. In this course, specific compensatory, bolus modification, postural and rehabilitation strategies will be described and available evidence for the technique will be summarized.

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To treat oral dysphagia, the SLP must select and use appropriate compensatory strategies, including bolus modifications and postural strategies, as well as implement rehabilitative techniques designed to achieve a change in physiologic function. Limited evidence exists for many oral phase rehabilitative techniques; therefore, this course will describe and discuss the related principles of neural plasticity, motor learning and neuromuscular treatments that the SLP must understand in order to effectively treat patients with oral dysphagia.

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This is Part 1 of a two-part lecture series designed to examine both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation approaches as they relate to Speech-Language Pathology. This course (Part 1) outlines inpatient rehabilitation for adults suffering from acquired speech and language disorders. Participants will review two complex case studies, goal writing, and treatment planning for adults. (Part 2 - Course #7307)