Medicare to cover supervised exercise for heart disease

Following a request from cardiologists, the CMS will now offer national Medicare coverage of supervised exercise therapy for treating peripheral artery disease

The agency said in a coverage decision released Thursday that research has shown supervised exercise therapy can help alleviate common symptoms of the cardiovascular disease, including pain and discomfort in a patient’s legs.

Peripheral artery disease occurs when plaque buildup narrows the arteries outside the heart. It affects 12% to 20% of Americans age 60 and older, and the incidence of the disease increases considerably with age.

Without exercise, individuals with peripheral artery disease could see their condition worsen to the point they lose functional independence.

“Medicare beneficiaries, a significant portion of which have peripheral artery disease will benefit considerably from participating in supervised exercise therapy sessions,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement. “Evidence shows this therapy can improve quality of life for patients and enhance clinical outcomes.”

Supervised exercise is a non-invasive treatment option, which can alleviate leg pain during exercise and improve a patient’s walking distance, according to the American Heart Association.

Medicare will now cover a series of exercise sessions lasting up to 60 minutes and involve use of either a treadmill or a track. Each session is supervised by an exercise physiologist or a physical therapist or a nurse.

While there are plenty of studies that highlight the benefits of supervised exercise for these patients, a 2015 study in the American Heart Journal found that supervised exercise for these patients did not lead to a noticeable improvement in quality of life.

“Given the current lack of evidence that [supervised exercise] improves quality of life . . . further evidence may be needed before reimbursement policies for supervised exercise will be reconsidered,” the study read.

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