Direct Access Bill Introduced At CSM

CHICAGO -- At a press event held Feb. 10 at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago, representatives from APTA and the Illinois chapter announced the release of a proposed state bill that would allow health care consumers in Illinois to be treated by a physical therapist without physician referral.

Illinois State Representative Angelo (Skip) Saviano (R-Elmwood Park) introduced the bill, which would bring Illinois in line with the 46 states that currently have some form of direct access legislation in their practice acts.

Currently, Illinois patients must obtain a referral from a physician before being treated by a physical therapist. Before treating, Illinois PTs must have a documented referral or documented current and relevant diagnosis from a physician, dentist or podiatrist, and PTs must notify the referring provider that established the diagnosis that the patient is receiving physical therapy pursuant to that diagnosis.

"Many states have had direct access for 30, 40, even 50 years," announced APTA President Scott Ward, PT, PhD, to the assembled crowd of supporters, press and APTA representatives. "It's time that the people of Illinois have the same access to our great care."

The bill is currently awaiting assignment to committee, which the Illinois Physical Therapy Association (IPTA) hopes to happen within the next month, said IPTA Steering Chair Patti Naylor, PT. At that point, she said, she hopes that an "all out push from membership" -- including legislative visits and intense lobbying -- will bring supporters to the proposed legislation.

The association has compiled press materials and other resources at a specifically dedicated website, www.illinoisadapt.org

"Our opposition might employ lots of scare tactics" to thwart the legislation, said Dr. Ward. Many states facing similar legal efforts have had to counter arguments from state medical associations that direct access to physical therapists could result in higher utilization rates for PT and could potentially put patients at risk due to missed diagnoses.

"We heard some of the same arguments [in 1993]," said Chris Murphy, PT, president of the Oregon chapter of APTA, when his state fought for, and achieved, direct access. "None of those doom and gloom scenarios have come true." Murphy estimates that 10 percent of his patient load at Providence Health & Services arrives via direct access.

 The IPTA claimed that unrestricted access to physical therapists will result in multiple benefits to patients and payers:

  • Provides patients with quicker and easier access to a physical therapist, removing the delay of obtaining a physician visit;
  • Lowers health care costs by reducing the number of unnecessary doctors' visits. Plus, according to IPTA, studies have shown that fewer physical therapy visits are needed in states that have direct access; and
  • Gives patients greater control over their health care treatment, including more choice when selecting a physical therapist.

"I know that many health insurers are concerned that direct access will increase the number of visits a patient makes to a physical therapist," said Colleen Flanery, executive director of IPTA. "But [a] study conducted in 2003-2007 among nearly 63,000 physical therapy patients showed that the exact opposite is true - the number of PT visits actually decreased with direct access."

"[The bill] is not about insuring our future [as PTs]," said Dr. Ward. "It's about ensuring timelier delivery of services. It's about removing unnecessary burdens for patients."




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