APTA Applauds Legislation to Include PTs in Student Loan Relief Program

Bill would encourage physical therapists to practice in underserved areas 

ALEXANDRIA, VA, February 12, 2009 — Physical therapists who practice in areas in which there are shortages of health care providers could become eligible for relief from student loan debt under legislation introduced yesterday in Congress by Representatives Marion Berry (D-AR 1st District) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO 8th District). The Physical Therapist Student Loan Repayment Eligibility Act (HR 988) would amend the Public Health Service Act to make certain physical therapists eligible for student loan repayment assistance under the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program.

"Many physical therapists begin their careers with significant debt due to the extensive education and clinical requirements of our profession," said American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) President R Scott Ward, PT, PhD. "By providing debt relief, this bill would help encourage more physical therapists to practice in underserved areas where they are most needed."

"In rural communities, patients often have to travel long distances to get the care they need from specialists like physical therapists who are already in high demand," said Berry. "This legislation ensures physical therapists can continue to have a significant role in helping Americans live healthier lives. In addition, the bill helps encourage gifted graduates to practice in underserved areas where the need for these programs far surpasses the number of qualified specialists."

Emerson added, "In rural America, the quality of health care is undeniably linked to the availability of services. It can be a real challenge to attract and keep expert physical therapists. As a result, we should use the same incentives for them as we are able to use to keep registered nurses, medical technicians, and other personnel in underserved communities. The student loan repayment provisions of the National Health Service Corps should certainly be available to physical therapists."

The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program currently includes primary care physicians, dentists, nurse midwives, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and mental behavioral health professionals practicing in health shortage areas.

A Senate companion bill is expected to be introduced in the next several weeks.

Physical therapists are highly-educated, licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility -- without expensive surgery or the side effects of medications. APTA represents more than 70,000 physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and students of physical therapy nationwide. Its purpose is to improve the health and quality of life of individuals through the advancement of physical therapist practice. In most states, patients can make an appointment directly with a physical therapist, without a physician referral. Learn more about conditions physical therapists can treat and find a physical therapist in your area at www.moveforwardpt.com.

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