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It's back: APTA-supported legislation that would list physical therapists (PTs) among the professions included in a federal program to provide greater patient access to health care in rural and underserved areas has been reintroduced in the Senate. If passed into law, the program could open up access to a student loan repayment program for participating PTs—and help address the nation's opioid crisis in areas that have been especially hard-hit.

The bill (S.970) would allow PTs to participate in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan repayment program, an initiative that repays up to $50,000 in outstanding student loans to certain health care professionals who agree to work for at least 2 years in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). An estimated 11.4 million Americans are served by the NHSC. The bill was introduced by Sens John Tester (D-MT), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Angus King (I-ME).

APTA is a strong supporter of legislation that extends student loan forgiveness to PTs, particularly as a way to improve access to physical therapist services in areas already experiencing shortages. But according to APTA Vice President of Government Affairs Justin Elliott, there's an additional important reason that the association is advocating for the bill's passage.

"The opioid epidemic has been especially devastating in rural and medically underserved areas," said Elliott. "And while the role of physical therapy as an important nonpharmacological alternative in the prevention, treatment, and management of pain is well-established, the current services corps law doesn't include any physical rehabilitation component. Allowing PTs to participate in the NHSC could help increase patient access to better ways to manage pain, especially for individuals who have or at risk of developing a substance use disorder."

Advocacy for S.970 (and its yet-to-be-introduced companion in the US House of Representatives) was a major focus of Capitol Hill visits conducted by APTA members as part of the APTA Federal Advocacy Forum held from March 31 to April 2. APTA encourages members to join the push for the bill by contacting their senators to urge them to become cosponsors by way of a prewritten letter, available at the APTA Legislative Action Center, that helps to deliver a unified message (member login required).

APTA staff will closely track the progress of this legislation—be on the lookout for more opportunities to advocate for this important change.


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