DeGette introduces bill to increase physical therapy access in rural, underserved communities

May 16, 2019
Press Release
Physical therapists provide non-pharmaceutical treatment options for pain, crucial to curbing the nation’s growing opioid epidemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) introduced legislation today to make physical therapy more accessible for individuals living in rural or underserved areas of the country.

The legislation – known as the “Physical Therapist Workforce and Patient Access Act” – would allow physical therapists to participate in the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program, a federal program designed to encourage health care professionals to take jobs in certain rural or underserved areas of the country by offering to repay a portion of their student loans if they work at one of hundreds of NHSC-approved sites around the country.

“Physical therapists have a unique skill set and are trained to treat patients without using the pharmaceutical drugs that have led to the nation’s current opioid epidemic,” DeGette said. “If we’re going to be curb this growing crisis, we have to find ways to provide our rural and underserved communities greater access to the nonpharmaceutical treatment that physical therapists can provide.”

There are currently 376 NHSC-approved sites throughout Colorado, including more than 70 in Denver County alone.

Despite their ability to treat pain without the use of addiction-causing medications, physical therapists are not among the group of health care professionals that the NHSC program is currently trying to recruit to work in rural or underserved areas of the country.

DeGette’s bill seeks to change that, and by making physical therapists eligible for the NHSC loan program, she hopes to provide more individuals living in rural and underserved areas of the country with greater access to nonpharmacological treatment options for their pain.

It would also help alleviate some of the demand on other primary care providers in those areas.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for physical therapists is expected to rise as baby boomers, who are now staying active longer into life, continue to age and will likely require some physical therapy care.

Based on current trends, the shortage of physical therapists in the U.S. is expected to reach over 26,000 by 2025, greater than any other primary care discipline currently offered an incentive by the National Health Service Corps.

By including physical therapists in the NHSC Loan Repayment Program, DeGette’s bill will help ensure that rehabilitation services and nonpharmacological treatment options are available to more underserved and rural communities throughout the country.

The legislation has the support of several prominent health care associations, including the American Physical Therapy Association.

“Rural and underserved areas are among the hardest hit in the current opioid crisis,” said Katy Neas, of the American Physical Therapy Association. “This legislation will ensure these communities have access to physical therapists who are health  care providers with expertise in pain management and can deliver evidence-based non-pharmacological treatment options to individuals with acute and chronic pain.”

The National Health Service Corps program was created in 1972 and is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health care professionals who enter the program and work at an NHSC-approved site in a Health Professional Shortage Area for two years receive up to $50,000 toward their student loans.

A copy of DeGette’s legislation is available here.