California physical therapists (PTs) have been infuriated by the legislatively wrangling that California SB 924 has been subject to during the past 2 weeks, made all the more frustrating because the bill is stalled in the Assembly Rules Committee during this last week of the California legislative session.
The legislation, a compromise bill brokered by California Senate President Darrell Steinberg and sponsored by state Sen Curren Price, was intended to end a long and bitter battle in the state legislature between the California Chapter and the California Medical Association (CMA) over the issues of direct access to physical therapist services, and whether PTs may be employed by, or be shareholders of, medical corporations, and alternatively whether physicians may be employed by or shareholders of PT corporations. While the chapter supported the direct access elements of SB 924, it was not in favor of the corporation aspect of the bill. Conversely, CMA supported the corporation language in the bill and remained adamantly opposed to allowing direct access.
For the most part, the legislation had been moving without major incident through the California legislature; SB 924 passed the Senate unanimously on January 30, and passed the Assembly Business & Professions Committee on June 26.
The flare-up started on Thursday, August 16, when SB 924 passed unanimously out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, but not before the committee made hostile amendments to the direct access aspects of the bill behind closed doors, without input from the California Chapter or the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen Price. Under the prior compromise version of SB 924, a signed plan of care from a physician or podiatrist was required to continue treatment after the initial 30 business days or 12 visits provided via direct access; the physical therapist also needed to provide written disclosure to the patient explaining the provisions tied to the direct access law. As amended by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, a diagnosis from a physician or podiatrist must be obtained after the initial 30 business days or 12 visits via direct access in order to continue treatment. The disclosure language the PT must provide to the patient also was amended to add language stating the private insurance may not pay for the services without a physician referral. The amendments made by the Appropriation Committee were held from the public for 5 days before being released, causing an uproar.
The bill took another turn on Friday, August 24, when the amendments that were placed into SB 924 during the Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing were removed on the Assembly floor, while new unwelcome amendments were added. But shortly thereafter Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez referred SB 924 to the Assembly Rules Committee, a procedural stall tactic, where SB 924 may stay until the end of the legislative session. If SB 924 is not moved from the Assembly Rules Committee and sent to the Assembly floor for a full vote by midnight Friday, August 31, SB 924 will die. The California Chapter is urging its members to contact their Assembly member to ask for an up–or-down vote on SB 924 by the full Assembly before the midnight deadline this Friday. The full text of the current version of SB 924 is available here.