Good news for physical therapists, great news for patients

Physical therapists, like Kari Smith, offer services that can enhance patients' mobility and quality of life.
Physical therapists, like Kari Smith, offer services that can enhance patients’ mobility and quality of life.

Physical therapy often can help patients recover faster, more fully and with less invasive and expensive procedures from conditions ranging from arthritis and injuries to type 2 diabetes and stroke. Thanks to legislation signed July 2 by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, this type of critical treatment is now more affordable and accessible.

Senate File 505 included a provision that, as of July 1, 2015, classifies physical therapy as “primary care” services rather than its previous classification as “specialty care.” That change may lower the co-pay amounts charged by insurance companies to $10-$20 per visit versus co-pays as high as $75 before the legislation. (Individuals should check with their insurance carrier to learn how the new legislation affects their co-pay and co-insurance for physical therapy.)

“The exciting thing is patients will have greater access to care, and those who self-limited their treatment, due to inability to pay, will no longer have to,” said Kari Smith, D.P.T., BCB-PMD, a physical therapist and manager of the Des Moines University Physical Therapy Clinic.

Physical therapists are health care professionals who treat patients of all ages to maintain, restore and improve movement and health. They help patients enjoy greater physical activity and less pain often while avoiding unnecessary surgeries, medications, doctor’s visits and even hospitalization and the financial burdens of such services. In Iowa, patients can receive physical therapy with or without a referral from another primary care provider. But the previous high co-pays for physical therapy often caused patients to not get the consistent treatment they need, which can result in longer recovery times and, in the long run, more serious medical interventions and increased health care costs.

“Physical therapy is a medically necessary, cost-effective component of comprehensive health care services for citizens,” said Traci Bush, D.P.T., OTR/L, D.H.S., director and chair of the DMU physical therapy program. “It enhances the quality of life for patients and their loved ones. It also results in significant cost savings for patients, employers and insurers.”

Bush expressed gratitude to Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, Council Bluffs, who guided the bill from subcommittee to a Senate floor vote, and to Gov. Branstad for signing it into law. She also praised the DMU physical therapy students, faculty, Iowa Physical Therapy Association and others who advocated for its passage.

“This was a great example of how professional leadership and advocacy, at all levels, resulted in an outcome that will ensure Iowans have access to better, more affordable services to achieve greater health,” she said.

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