Tester, Wicker Introduce Bill to Increase Access to Physical Therapy

Senators’ legislation incentivizes physical therapists to practice in rural and underserved areas

Continuing their efforts to address medical workforce shortages in rural America, U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) have introduced bipartisan legislation to increase access to critical physical therapy services by bringing more health care professionals to rural America.

The Physical Therapist Workforce and Patient Access Act of 2021 will make physical therapists eligible to participate in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), a student loan repayment initiative that incentivizes medical professionals to practice in rural and underserved areas of the country. Currently, physical therapists are not included in the NHSC.

“Health care professionals often graduate with mountains of student debt that makes it tough to take jobs in rural communities, making it harder for the folks living there to access critical services like physical therapy they need,” said Tester. “This bipartisan bill will make it easier for top-notch health care providers to live and work in the rural communities that depend on them, and will make accessing quality health care easier and more affordable for all Montanans.”

“Physical therapists bring tremendous value to their communities and are an essential part of helping patients heal after illness or injury,” said Wicker. “This legislation would add physical therapists to The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program, encouraging students to stay and continue practicing in rural and underserved areas after completing their education. I am glad to join my colleague Senator Tester in this effort.”

The legislation requires NHSC participants to commit to two years of full-time service in exchange for up to $50,000 of loan repayment. Medical professionals currently eligible for the NHSC include primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and mental health professionals.

The American Physical Therapy Association praised the bill:

“Rural and underserved areas are among the hardest hit by the opioid crisis and Long COVID,” said American Physical Therapy Association President Sharon L. Dunn, PT, PhD. “This legislation will ensure these communities have access to physical therapists who can deliver non-pharmacological treatment for pain, and improve the movement impairments and other issues patients experience due to Long COVID.”

There are NHSC Health Professional Shortage Areas in every county in Montana, meaning there are too few medical professionals in those areas of the county to meet the health care needs of local citizens.