A little more than 1 month after its companion bill was introduced in the US Senate, legislation that could open up student loan repayment opportunities for physical therapists (PTs) has been introduced in the House of Representatives. The proposed change, strongly supported by APTA, would allow PTs to participate in the National Health Services Corps (NHSC), a federal initiative that provides greater patient access to health care in rural and underserved areas—and incentivizes health care provider participation through a student loan forgiveness program.
Like the Senate version (S 970), the House version, titled the "Physical Therapist Workforce and Patient Access Act" (HR 2802), would allow PTs to participate in the NHSC loan repayment program. The initiative serves an estimated 11.4 million Americans who live in designated Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) and repays up to $50,000 in outstanding student loans to certain health care professionals who agree to work in an HPSA for at least 2 years. The House bill is cosponsored by Reps Diane DeGette (D-CO) and John Shimkus (R-IL).
"If enacted, this legislation would be very good news for PTs, and even better news for patients who need increased access to care," said Katy Neas, APTA's executive vice president of public affairs. "Legislators on both sides of the aisle are recognizing that access to physical therapist services can be a useful tool in the fight against the opioid crisis, which has been especially devastating in rural and underserved areas. Physical therapists are expert in musculoskeletal systems and can provide invaluable services to patients with acute and chronic pain, and this bill will make it easier for patients in rural and underserved areas to access those services."
In addition to its positive impact on health care access, the legislation could also provide some relief for the rising level of student debt being experienced by graduates of physical therapist education programs. It's a challenge that APTA is working to address, according to APTA Vice President of Government Affairs Justin Elliott
"APTA's strategic plan envisions a physical therapy profession that's as diverse as the patient population it serves, and that means we must take a hard look at barriers to pursuing a career in physical therapy," said Elliott. "Clearly one of those barriers is the cost of physical therapist education. While this bill doesn't solve the problem, it could provide at least some relief for PTs facing significant student debt."
APTA encourages members to join the push for the bills by contacting their legislators 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.