Senate Introduces Legislation to Increase Access to Physical Therapist Services

ALEXANDRIA, VA, May 6, 2009 — The US Senate recently introduced legislation that would increase access to physical therapy services for Medicare beneficiaries by removing the need for a physician's referral or certification of the plan of care in those states in which direct access is authorized, says the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).  

Under the Medicare Patient Access to Physical Therapists Act (S 950), introduced by Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Arlen Specter (D-PA), Medicare Part B beneficiaries who need outpatient physical therapy would have direct access to physical therapist services as permitted by state law.

"Delaying treatment puts seniors and people with disabilities at risk by impeding their ability to achieve optimal functional outcomes," said APTA President R. Scott Ward, PT, PhD. "Removing this unnecessary and burdensome requirement will allow Medicare beneficiaries to receive high quality cost-effective physical therapy services in a timely manner."

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have eliminated the physician referral/certification of plan requirement for patients to access physical therapists for an evaluation, while 44 states and DC allow access to some form of physical therapy treatment without referral. This legislation would defer to the state law on access regarding physical therapy.

"As we work to move health care toward a system that improves quality and value, physical therapists are critical to increasing access to care, especially in rural America," said Lincoln. "Our health reform efforts should enable providers to work collaboratively across care settings to deliver evidence-based health care services to the millions of Medicare beneficiaries who need them."

The House introduced its version of the Senate bill on March 31.

Physical therapists are highly-educated, licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility - in many cases without expensive surgery or the side effects of prescription medications. APTA represents more than 72,000 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, education, and research. 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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