New Bill Enables Physical Therapists to Serve in Locum Tenens Assignments

Physical therapists have long been recognized as critical members of medical recovery teams, but until now they have not enjoyed a privilege that physicians, dentist, chiropractors and optometrists possess: the ability to serve in locum tenens assignments.  A new bill entitled the Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. If passed, this law would enable physical therapists to temporarily replace a colleague and treat Medicare patients with expectation of compensation from Medicare. Physical therapists are essential for the restoration of optimal physical function following an injury, illness or surgical procedure.  Without continuing physical therapy during the recuperative phase, a patient could lose some or all of their functionality, dramatically diminishing their quality of life.  Physical therapists that must take time off for vacation, continuing education, illness or life issues could be forced to leave their patients without physical therapy during a critical period in their recovery. PT’s in small or midsize practices were limited in their replacement options without the availability of locum tenens substitutes. The ability to substitute a locum tenens physical therapist would also be extremely beneficial for patients in rural areas who would likely have to travel great distances to obtain services from another therapist. Many rural regions around the country are currently experiencing a shortage of physical therapists. The new bill introduced by Representatives Gus Biliraikis and Ben Ray Lujan, and Senators Charles Grassley and Bob Casey, would amend the Supplemental Medical Insurance clause of title XVIII (or Medicare).  The Medicare amendment would enable the federal agency to reimburse locum tenens physical therapists for their services provided to Medicare enrollees. If the Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act is passed, this would greatly benefit the almost 204,000 physical therapists currently serving in the United States.  The ability to seamlessly substitute another PT during absences would permit these medical professionals greater freedom to take time off.  Furthermore, it would greatly enhance the recoveries of many of the almost 750,000 Americans who visit physical therapists daily. Within the current framework, physical therapists who offer services via Medicare are not permitted to utilize locum tenens professionals during any absences. With the passage of the Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act, PT’s would be able to hire locum tenens replacements who are licensed to practice. The practice would, however, have to disclose the use of a locum tenens practitioner on the Medicare claim form and be limited to 60 days of temporary service. If Congress does approve the Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act, it would likely increase the already burgeoning locum tenens market.  With the addition of more physical therapists, a profession which currently comprises 31 percent of the healthcare staffing industry, there would be even more professionals available for temporary assignments.  The physical therapist profession, which produces almost 27 percent of the entire allied health sector’s $416 million profits—making it the single most profitable profession in this medical field—would likely see a jump in revenue and the number of prospective professionals.

Written by:  Robert Moghim, M.D., CEO- Moghim Medical Consulting Inc.

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