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All patients —regardless of who they are or where they're from — need to have access to physical therapist services that are delivered effectively, reimbursed appropriately, and enriched by research that shows physical therapy's ability to optimize patient health, well-being, and recovery. That's the foundation APTA created for its public policy and advocacy efforts for the next two years.

Now available: APTA's Public Policy Priorities, 2021-2022, a document that establishes a roadmap for the association's advocacy efforts during the 117th U.S. Congress, which convened in January. The priorities continue APTA's efforts to work for a more equitable, outcomes-based, and patient-centered health care system that recognizes the value of physical therapy — a value that's been heightened through both the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation's opioid crisis.

Developed by the APTA Public Policy and Advocacy Committee, reviewed by APTA’s components and Federal Affairs Liaisons, and approved by the APTA Board of Directors, the document is meant to be an externally facing resource that sets out the association's fundamental policy principles for members of Congress, Hill staff, federal agencies, and the Administration. The six-page document isn't intended to list every advocacy effort but instead highlights the overarching themes of APTA's legislative work.

The Influence of the Pandemic and an Ongoing Opioid Crisis
The priorities document makes a clear case for the role of physical therapy in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the country's continuing opioid crisis. The resource points out how physical therapy can be essential to recovery from COVID-19, how it is an effective way to manage pain without opioids, and how it can be provided in a wide range of settings — including through telehealth.

The priorities document sums it up this way: "Physical therapists bring solutions to patients, providers, communities, and health systems. Greater access to physical therapist services is part of the solution to many of our nation's health and wellness challenges."

Four Major Areas of Focus
The overarching goals of APTA's public policy goals for 2021 and 2022 are divided into four broad categories: patient access and care, population health and social determinants of health, value-based care and practice, and research and clinical innovation. Within each category, the priorities list several objectives. Among them: ensuring appropriate payment for services, expanding the definition of primary care services to include PTs, supporting funding for prevention and wellness services, reducing administrative burden, and increasing funding for health services research that includes PT services.

The priorities also highlight the role physical therapy can play in increasing physical activity among Americans — a message reinforced by APTA's current public education campaign and new public service announcement.

An Emphasis on Transformation
"The public policy priorities continue to reflect APTA's transformative vision, and are particularly relevant as the association celebrates its centennial this year," said Katy Neas, APTA senior vice president of public affairs. "This resource makes it clear to policymakers exactly where we stand, and why — it's the place from which substantive conversations can begin."

Justin Elliott, APTA's vice president of government affairs, says there are many important conversations to be had on Capitol Hill, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic has not only spotlighted challenges to our nation's health care system, it has shown the essential role of physical therapy," Elliott said. "PTs and PTAs have once again proven to be critical players in the care and recovery team, just as they've proven to be critical players in the nonpharmacological management of pain. These crises have opened the eyes and ears of many lawmakers to the vulnerabilities in U.S. health care, and our public policy priorities offer the outlines of a path to improvement."

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