Homebound - To Be Or Not To Be - Are Your Services Covered?


to be or not to be - that is the question.

(The following information was gathered from a variety of Internet and text sources.)

Homebound status for qualification of Medicare coverage for home health care services are ill-defined. There are some black and white obvious points but some are shaded gray. Here are the basics... as basic as I could get them - straight from Medicare. Conditions Patient Must Meet to Qualify for Coverage of Home Health Services To qualify for the Medicare home health benefit, a Medicare beneficiary must meet the following requirements:

  • Be confined to the home;
  • Under the care of a physician;
  • Receiving services under a plan of care established and periodically reviewed by a physician;
  • Be in need of skilled nursing care on an intermittent basis or physical therapy or speech-language pathology; or
  • Have a continuing need for occupational therapy.

For purposes of benefit eligibility, "intermittent" means skilled nursing care that is either provided or needed on fewer than 7 days each week or less than 8 hours of each day for periods of 21 days or less (with extensions in exceptional circumstances when the need for additional care is finite and predictable).

A patient must meet each of the criteria specified in this section. Patients who meet each of these criteria are eligible to have payment made on their behalf for services.

Patient Confined to the Home

In order for a patient to be eligible to receive covered home health services under both Part A and Part B, the law requires that a physician certify in all cases that the patient is confined to his/her home. An individual does not have to be bedridden to be considered confined to the home. However, the condition of these patients should be such that there exists a normal inability to leave home and, consequently, leaving home would require a considerable and taxing effort.

If the patient does in fact leave the home, the patient may nevertheless be considered homebound if the absences from the home are infrequent or for periods of relatively short duration, or are attributable to the need to receive health care treatment. Absences attributable to the need to receive health care treatment include, but are not limited to:

  • Attendance at adult day centers to receive medical care;
  • Ongoing receipt of outpatient kidney dialysis; or
  • The receipt of outpatient chemotherapy or radiation therapy

Any absence of an individual from the home attributable to the need to receive health care treatment, including regular absences for the purpose of participating in therapeutic, psychosocial, or medical treatment in an adult day-care program that is licensed or certified by a State, or accredited to furnish adult day-care services in a State, shall not disqualify an individual from being considered to be confined to his home. Any other absence of an individual from the home shall not so disqualify an individual if the absence is of an infrequent or of relatively short duration. For purposes of the preceding sentence, any absence for the purpose of attending a religious service shall be deemed to be an absence of infrequent or short duration. It is expected that in most instances, absences from the home that occur will be for the purpose of receiving health care treatment. However, occasional absences from the home for nonmedical purposes, e.g., an occasional trip to the barber, a walk around the block or a drive, attendance at a family reunion, funeral, graduation, or other infrequent or unique event would not necessitate a finding that the patient is not homebound if the absences are undertaken on an infrequent basis or are of relatively short duration and do not indicate that the patient has the capacity to obtain the health care provided outside rather than in the home.

Generally speaking, a patient will be considered to be homebound if they have a condition due to an illness or injury that restricts their ability to leave their place of residence except with the aid of: supportive devices such as crutches, canes, wheelchairs, and walkers; the use of special transportation; or the assistance of another person; or if leaving home is medically contraindicated.

Some examples of homebound patients that illustrate the factors used to determine whether a homebound condition exists would be:

  • A patient paralyzed from a stroke who is confined to a wheelchair or requires the aid of crutches in order to walk;
  • A patient who is blind or senile and requires the assistance of another person in leaving their place of residence;
  • A patient who has lost the use of their upper extremities and, therefore, is unable to open doors, use handrails on stairways,
  • etc., and requires the assistance of another individual to leave their place of residence;
  • A patient in the late stages of ALS or neurodegenerative disabilities.

In determining whether the patient has the general inability to leave the home and leaves the home only infrequently or for periods of short duration, it is necessary (as is the case in determining whether skilled nursing services are intermittent) to look at the patient's condition over a period of time rather than for short periods within the home health stay. For example, a patient may leave the home (under the conditions described above, e.g., with severe and taxing effort, with the assistance of others) more frequently during a short period when, for example, the presence of visiting relatives provides a unique opportunity for such absences, than is normally the case. So long as the patient's overall condition and experience is such that he or she meets these qualifications, he or she should be considered confined to the home.

  • A patient who has just returned from a hospital stay involving surgery who may be suffering from resultant weakness and pain and, therefore, their actions may be restricted by their physician to certain specified and limited activities such as getting out of bed only for a specified period of time, walking stairs only once a day, etc.;
  • A patient with arteriosclerotic heart disease of such severity that they must avoid all stress and physical activity; and
  • A patient with a psychiatric illness that is manifested in part by a refusal to leave home or is of such a nature that it would not be considered safe for the patient to leave home unattended, even if they have no physical limitations.
  • The aged person who does not often travel from home because of feebleness and insecurity brought on by advanced age would not be considered confined to the home for purposes of receiving home health services unless they meet one of the above conditions.

    Although a patient must be confined to the home to be eligible for covered home health services, some services cannot be provided at the patient's residence because equipment is required that cannot be made available there. If the services required by an individual involve the use of such equipment, the HHA may make arrangements with a hospital, skilled nursing facility (SNF), or a rehabilitation center to provide these services on an outpatient basis. (See §50.6.) However, even in these situations, for the services to be covered as home health services the patient must be considered as confined to home; and to receive such outpatient services a homebound patient will generally require the use of supportive devices, special transportation, or the assistance of another person to travel to the appropriate facility.

    If a question is raised as to whether a patient is confined to the home, the HHA will be requested to furnish the intermediary with the information necessary to establish that the patient is homebound as defined above.

    Patient's Place of Residence

    A patient's residence is wherever he or she makes his or her home. This may be his or her own dwelling, an apartment, a relative's home, a home for the aged, or some other type of institution. However, an institution may not be considered a patient's residence if the institution meets the requirements of §§1861(e)(1) or 1819(a)(1) of the Act. Included in this group are hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, as well as most nursing facilities under Medicaid. (See the Medicare State Operations Manual, §2166.)

    Thus, if a patient is in an institution or distinct part of an institution identified above, the patient is not entitled to have payment made for home health services under either Part A or Part B since such an institution may not be considered their residence. When a patient remains in a participating SNF following their discharge from active care, the facility may not be considered their residence for purposes of home health coverage.

    A patient may have more than one home and the Medicare rules do not prohibit a patient from having one or more places of residence. A patient, under a Medicare home health plan of care, who resides in more than one place of residence during an episode of Medicare covered home health services will not disqualify the patient's homebound status for purposes of eligibility. For example, a person may reside in a principal home and also a second vacation home, mobile home, or the home of a caretaker relative. The fact that the patient resides in more than one home and, as a result, must transit from one to the other, is not in itself, an indication that the patient is not homebound. The requirements of homebound must be met at each location (e.g., considerable taxing effort etc). Assisted Living Facilities, Group Homes, and Personal Care Homes An individual may be "confined to the home" for purposes of Medicare coverage of home health services if he or she resides in an institution that is not primarily engaged in providing to inpatients:

    • Diagnostic and therapeutic services for medical diagnosis;
    • Treatment;
    • Care of disabled or sick persons;
    • Rehabilitation services for the rehabilitation of injured, disabled, or sick persons;
    • Skilled nursing care or related services for patients who require medical or nursing care; or
    • Rehabilitation services for the rehabilitation of injured, sick, or disabled persons

    If it is determined that the assisted living facility (also called personal care homes, group homes, etc.) in which the individuals reside are not primarily engaged in providing the above services, then Medicare will cover reasonable and necessary home health care furnished to these individuals.

    If it is determined that the services furnished by the home health agency are duplicative of services furnished by an assisted living facility (also called personal care homes, group homes, etc.) when provision of such care is required of the facility under State licensure requirements, claims for such services should be denied under §1862(a)(1)(A) of the Act. Section 1862(a)(1)(A) excludes services that are not necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury or to improve the functioning of a malformed body member from Medicare coverage. Services to people who already have access to appropriate care from a willing caregiver would not be considered reasonable and necessary to the treatment of the individual's illness or injury.

    Medicare coverage would not be an optional substitute for the services that a facility that is required to provide by law to its patients or where the services are included in the base contract of the facility. An individual's choice to reside in such a facility is also a choice to accept the services it holds itself out as offering to its patients. Day Care Centers and Patient's Place of Residence The current statutory definition of homebound or confined does not imply that Medicare coverage has been expanded to include adult day care services.

    The law does not permit an HHA to furnish a Medicare covered billable visit to a patient under a home health plan of care outside his or her home, except in those limited circumstances where the patient needs to use medical equipment that is too cumbersome to bring to the home. Section 1861(m) of the Act stipulates that home health services provided to a patient be provided to the patient on a visiting basis in a place of residence used as the individual's home. A licensed/certified day care center does not meet the definition of a place of residence.

    If you need home care, make sure you are homebound. It's up to everyone to diminish homebound fraud. Be a part of the solution.


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    Thank Your PT

    Learn more about your homebound status here.

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