The Department of Labor has taken exception to recent communications by the US Postal Service urging injured employees to use Align Networks for physical therapy services covered under workers comp. The OWCP questions claims that Align can somehow speed up the approval process, since all claims still have to be approved by OWCP. In fact, according to OWCP, using any other channel to request approval “will delay OWCP/ACS’s processing and authorization of physical therapy”. Materials promoting Align, and distributed to employees also say that they won’t have to pay co-pays or other out of pocket costs if they use Align. OWCP points out that no employee ever has to pay any out of pocket charges, regardless of the provider.
The APWU had previously warned its members to avoid using Align’s services, noting that “as a contract provider, Align Networks and their therapists can share information with the USPS that would otherwise be protected by doctor-patient confidentiality, including information that is unrelated to workplace injuries.” APWU also quoted Align’s own promotional materials, which tout its “aggressive management of visit attendance and compliance”, and suggest that it can allow employers like the USPS (rather than medical professionals) to “determine the appropriateness of continued care”.
Here is the text of the OWCP notice:
No Change in OWCP Procedures for Physical Therapy Authorizations
Recent communications from the United States Postal Service and Align Networks have caused confusion regarding the process for securing authorization for physical therapy for treatment of approved conditions under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). Under 5 U.S.C. 8103 and its implementing regulations and procedures, only the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs has the authority to determine what medical care will be authorized. Authorization requests should continue to be sent to ACS as OWCP’s designated bill processing agent; authorizations and bills are processed by ACS in accordance with OWCP’s established guidelines. In addition:
- Medical Providers are not required to refer USPS claimants only to the Align Network for authorization for physical therapy; any communication that suggests or implies otherwise is simply incorrect.
- Align Networks does not have the power to authorize physical therapy treatment under FECA.
Consistent with past practice, all requests for authorization of physical therapy must be submitted to OWCP’s medical billing contractor, ACS, using the template approved by OWCP. If the request is not submitted electronically through the ACS web portal at http://owcp.dol.acsinc.com, any request for authorization of physical therapy must be faxed to 800-215-4901. Faxing a request for physical therapy to any other number will delay OWCP/ACS’s processing and authorization of physical therapy.
- No federal employee (including any USPS employee/claimant) is required to use Align Network, or a physical therapist that is affiliated with Align Network, for scheduling or treatment of a condition approved by OWCP under FECA.
- Regardless of what provider is used, there are never co-pays or out-of-pocket expenses under FECA for physical therapy treatment for an approved condition.
While OWCP has no objection to any claimant using Align Network for physical therapy, such use cannot reduce an injured employee’s out of pocket expenses as there are none.
The original OWCP notice can be downloaded here (pdf).