In the latest chapter in a decade-long battle in South Carolina over the issue of physician-owned physical therapy services (POPTS), a circuit court on April 22 granted summary judgment (.pdf) in favor of the South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners (SCBPTE) and the South Carolina Chapter of APTA (SCAPTA). In its ruling, the court upheld the ability of physical therapists (PTs) to operate group practices while maintaining the state's ban on PTs working for physician owned groups.
The case is a sequel to the 2006 opinion of the State Supreme Court in the Sloan litigation involving a practice act clause that prohibits a physical therapist (PT) from dividing revenue with a person who referred a patient. The Supreme Court interpreted the act as prohibiting a PT from working for pay for a physician-owned group if the PT treats patients referred by a physician in the group. SCAPTA has defended the law from several legislative attempts to repeal it.
The circuit court case was brought by 2 medical doctors and 1 PT against the SCBPTE. The plaintiffs argued that the act’s prohibition should also apply to PTs who work for pay for a PT-owned group if the PT treats patient sent to him/her by another PT in the group. Such an interpretation would prevent PTs from operating group practices. The summary judgment ruled against this interpretation.
Soon after the case was filed in 2013, SCAPTA entered a motion to intervene in the case, which was granted by the court. APTA provided significant legal resources to the chapter, and the APTA Board of Directors approved a grant to help cover the chapter’s substantial legal bills.
The battle over interpretation of the law is probably not over—plaintiffs are expected to appeal this decision, which could lead to the case being reviewed in the state supreme court. At the same time, supporters of a repeal of the POPTS restrictions could make another attempt to undermine the entire law.
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