8 Minute Rule Physical Therapy Advice From Professionals

The 8-Minute Rule Physical Therapy

Medicare and many other payers require therapists to adhere to what is known as the 8-minute rule for time-based codes. This rule determines how many billing units a therapist can receive for a single patient visit that includes time-based and service-based CPT codes.

Time-based CPT codes typically represent 15 minutes of treatment, but not every treatment will neatly divide into those increments. When this occurs, it can result in a remainder that includes leftover minutes from multiple services.

What is the 8-Minute Rule?

The 8-minute rule in physical therapy is a crucial concept that therapists must understand to accurately calculate the appropriate number of billable units based on the duration of direct contact therapeutic services provided to patients. Getting this right is critical to avoid underbilling, which can lead to delays in reimbursement and even costly audits. This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of the therapy 8-minute rule so you can ensure your Medicare or commercial insurance billing is up to par.

The 8-minute rule in physical therapy applies to a wide variety of time-based codes, including evaluative and treatment interventions. The rule essentially states that for a time-based code to be billable by Medicare, the total one-on-one therapy time must be at least 8 minutes long. Medicare will reimburse a therapist for an additional unit if the skilled, one-on-one time exceeds eight minutes and continues up to 23 minutes.

For therapists working with payers that do not adhere to the 8-minute rule, some may choose to use a different method of calculation called Substantial Portion Methodology (SPM). SPM allows therapists to bill a single unit for any timed code as long as they provide a minimum of 8 minutes of services under that code. While this method is not required for any payers, it can be helpful in determining how much time you need to spend on each individual service to ensure you are meeting payer guidelines.

Another important factor to consider when calculating the amount of time you can bill per session is whether or not you have mixed remainders. Mixed remainders occur when dividing the total timed minutes for your session leaves you with leftover minutes from multiple services or codes. If these leftover minutes add up to more than eight minutes, you can bill for an extra unit for the service that has the longest duration.

Ultimately, it is the physician’s clinical judgment that will dictate how much time to spend on each treatment. However, in order to defend your decision with a payer, you must have defensible documentation that can withstand scrutiny. Learn more about creating a document that can withstand any payer audit with our free Defensible Documentation Toolkit.

How Does it Apply to My Practice?

When you bill Medicare, they use a system called the 8-minute rule to determine how many units you can claim for a session. This rule ensures that a therapist provides at least eight minutes of direct one-on-one treatment to a patient during a session.

When calculating the number of billable units, Medicare adds up all the timed therapy minutes and divides them by 15. If there are more than eight remaining minutes, you can claim another unit. This is also known as the rule of 8.

However, it’s important to note that the 8-minute rule in physical therapy only applies to the timed therapy codes. Service-based codes, such as re-evaluations and hot/cold packs, do not need to meet the 8-minute rule because these are service-based codes that do not require one-on-one treatment.

To determine the number of billable units for a visit, first add up all the timed therapy minutes from each service you performed with a patient. Then, divide that amount by 15. If the resulting remainder is 8 or more minutes, you can claim an additional unit of physical therapy. Otherwise, you will need to break down your services and record the specific minutes spent on each.

If you are treating patients with Medicare Advantage (Part C), the rules for billing vary a bit. In this case, the therapist should record each service provided for that day and then multiply the service-based time by the appropriate Medicare rate. For example, if the patient received 30 minutes of therapeutic exercise and 10 minutes of unattended electrical stimulation, the therapist would need to count those minutes separately.

Having documentation and billing software that helps calculate the number of billable units for your therapists can make this process much easier. Using an EMR with built-in calculators for the 8-minute rule can help prevent underbilling and ensure that you are collecting the maximum amount of reimbursement from each Medicare patient encounter. This is especially important if you treat Medicare patients because Medicare has the lowest reimbursement rates of all the major payors.

Billing in Accordance With the 8-Minute Rule

While the idea behind the 8-minute rule seems simple enough, things can become complicated when you start billing for both time-based and service-based codes in a single patient visit. To be reimbursed for a time-based code such as manual therapy or physical therapy, therapists must provide direct, one-on-one treatment for at least eight minutes. This is why it’s important for therapists to ensure they are following the correct guidelines to avoid underbilling Medicare for their services.

To determine how many units of therapy to bill for a given visit, therapists must first calculate the total amount of time spent providing direct, one-on-one treatment. Then, they must divide that total by 15 to find the number of units of therapy that can be billed. Medicare’s 8-minute rule chart provides a helpful reference point for therapists to follow when calculating their units of therapy.

However, not all payers use the same rules to determine how many units of therapy can be billed. While Medicare follows the 8-minute rule, other private insurances often use a different method for determining units of therapy.

The key difference between these two methods is that private insurances usually do not include documentation time in their calculation of a patient’s total treatment time. Instead, they only take into account the actual time spent providing direct, one-on-one services to the patient.

This is why it’s so important for therapists to be familiar with the differences between these two standards so they can accurately bill for their services. It’s also why it’s crucial for therapists to use an EMR documentation and billing system that offers built-in calculators and assistance with Medicare-specific rules like the 8-minute rule.

When using an EMR, therapists can easily determine how many units of therapy to bill for their services by simply dividing the total amount of time spent providing direct, individual treatment by 15. If there are any remainders left over after this step, it is then possible to break down which services or code should be assigned that additional unit of therapy. For example, if a therapist has 38 minutes of total timed treatment and 2 leftover units, it may be appropriate to assign the extra unit to the initial evaluation or to manual therapy since they were performed for a longer duration.

What if I Don’t Meet The 8-minute Rule?

When it comes to Medicare, the 8-minute rule in physical therapy is a critical policy that ensures patients receive the care they need and that therapists get paid for their work. However, this rule is not universal, and private insurers and other payers have their own policies that can affect how PTs bill for services. Therefore, it’s essential that PTs understand the different rules surrounding this topic, and how they might impact their practice.

For example, some payers use the midpoint rule for determining how many units of time-based treatment can be billed per session. This rule allows a therapist to bill one unit for any service that exceeds the 15-minute threshold but doesn’t surpass the 8-minute requirement. This is often a better option for those who treat a mix of Medicare and non-Medicare patients.

Other payers may also have a policy that determines the maximum number of units of each time-based procedure or modality that can be billed during a visit. For instance, some payers limit the total number of units that can be billed for service-based codes to two per session. This is often a better option for therapists who treat a mix of Medicare and non-Medicare patient populations as it can save them time and money when billing.

Another way to avoid underbilling is to implement a defensible documentation system in your practice. This will help you document all of the time spent with your patient, including assessment and management. As long as your documentation is detailed and explains why you are choosing to spend extra time treating the patient, most payers will be willing to approve these additional minutes of treatment.

If you’re interested in learning more about the 8-minute rule in physical therapy and how it applies to your specific practice or want to learn how we can help you streamline your coding and billing processes, contact us for more information! Our team of experts is happy to walk you through our software’s built-in calculators, assistance with Medicare and other payer guidelines, and customization features. We can also assist you with implementing new codes, NCCI edits, and other compliance updates to your clinic’s software.