Bill to Improve Access to Physical Therapist Services Under Medicare Introduced

Armen Hareyan's picture

Medicare beneficiaries may get improved access to physical therapist services if bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress becomes law. Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) along with Representatives Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), Jim Ramstad (R-MN, 3rd), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI, 2nd), Ron Lewis (R-KY 2nd) and Tim Murphy (R-PA, 18th) recently introduced The Medicare Patient Access to Physical Therapists Act (HR 1552/S. 932) which would improve access to physical therapist services for beneficiaries by eliminating burdensome requirements, such as a physician's referral or certification of the plan of care, as permitted by state laws.

"Direct access under Medicare would remove unnecessary barriers to the cost-effective rehabilitation services provided by physical therapists," said APTA President R Scott Ward, PT, PhD. "Currently these health care consumers, including seniors and people with disabilities, who often have the greatest need for physical therapy services, experience unnecessary burdens to access these services. The resulting delays, and at times denial of needed rehabilitation services provided by physical therapists, can impede a patient's ability to achieve his or her optimal functional outcome. Medicare should not limit access to safe, qualified providers with more burdensome requirements than state laws. Many states have had direct access laws on the books for nearly 30 years, and evidence has shown that direct access to physical therapist services is cost effective and safe, and has improved access to care. It is time for Medicare beneficiaries to also benefit from improved access to physical therapist services."

"Physical therapists in my home state of Arkansas are able to treat physical impairments, functional limitations, disabilities, and changes in health status for residents without a physician referral," Senator Lincoln said. "It is critical that Congress work toward improving access to services for Medicare beneficiaries, particularly those with chronic and disabling conditions. To this end, we must provide Medicare beneficiaries with meaningful choices for delivery of the care they require and eliminate burdensome, unnecessary regulatory mandates."

"I'm pleased to be a cosponsor of legislation that improves Medicare beneficiaries' access to physical therapists," Senator Specter said. "Health is our most important capital asset, and it is critical that those with chronic and disabling conditions have access to the quality health care."

"Requiring Medicare patients to get a physician referral before they can see a physical therapist puts an undue burden on residents of rural areas who often travel long distances just to see their doctor. Removing the physician referral requirement would save valuable time and money for Medicare patients in North Dakota and across the country," Rep. Earl Pomeroy said.


"This important bill will reduce delays for Medicare beneficiaries so they can start getting the care they need from skilled physical therapists," said Rep. Jim Ramstad.

"Allowing Medicare patients direct access to physical therapists is a cost-effective and common-sense proposal that should be adopted. This legislation removes an unnecessary barrier to treatment that benefits patients, therapists, and the bottom-line," said Rep. Tammy Baldwin.

"This legislation will remove a barrier that denies seniors on Medicare direct access to physical therapists," Rep. Tim Murphy said. "Physical therapy is critical for seniors remaining mobile and active. Physical therapists help seniors recover from traumatic injuries and provide preventative care to help maintain health. It is time Medicare recipients have direct access to physical therapy."

Currently, 48 states allow physical therapists to evaluate patients without a prior physician's referral, and 43 states and the District of Columbia improve accessibility by allowing physical therapists to evaluate and treat, under certain conditions, patients without a referral from a physician.

Physical therapists (PTs) are health care professionals who diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborns to the elderly, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives.

PTs examine each individual and develop a plan of care using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.