On July 8, the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee of California’s State Senate approved a new bill that will affect riverside physical therapy (as well as other physical therapy practices across California) if it’s passed. (It passed unanimously in the committee, but that just means that it progresses to another committee for approval at the end of the summer. It’s not law yet).
The discussion of the bill sparked so much controversy that it carried over into the following week. What’s going on here? How will it really change riverside physical therapy? Let’s take a look.
What’s in the bill?
The new bill lays down some new protective regulations for patients of physical therapists, which no one really disagrees with. The controversial aspect of the bill is that it allows corporations to directly hire physical therapists (as well as other medical practitioners). Traditionally, riverside physical therapy (and physical therapy all over California) has worked in one particular way: physical therapists have had their own independent private offices, and doctors have referred patients to physical therapists when necessary. Under this bill, a corporation (including a medical corporation, like a hospital or medical practice) can hire a physical therapist.
Why are people upset about this?
You might wonder, “Okay, why are people upset about the idea of physical therapists being hired by other companies instead of starting their own businesses?”
It was called “the elephant in the room” on the floor of California’s State Senate: it’s called referral for profit.
Referral for profit has become a common word for “Physician-Owned Physical Therapy Offices.” A physician-owned physical therapy office is what it sounds like – a medical company (for example, a physician’s practice) employs a physical therapist, incorporating the physical therapy practice as part of the physician’s business. Now, the physical therapy office (call it “Riverside Physical Therapy”) belongs to the physician office (call it “Riverside Healthcare”).
This poses a problem. Now, Riverside Healthcare makes money from recommending patients to the Riverside Physical Therapy. People who oppose the new bill believe that the doctors at Riverside Healthcare might recommend their own physical therapy practice just because it will make them money, not because the patient needs it (or because Riverside Physical Therapy is the best physical therapist around). “Referral for profit,” as you can see, is the practice of referring a patient to a physical therapist for the doctor’s benefit and not for the patient’s benefit.
So, what about the people who support the bill?
People who support the bill say that it will make Riverside physical therapy (and all PT in California) more accessible to patients with many kinds of insurance. Also, say the supporters, doctors who hire their own physical therapists take on more personal risk – if a doctor doesn’t hire a good physical therapist, his or her practice could be shut down. Further, supporters say that because physical therapy will become more accessible and more readily available, more patients will benefit from physical therapy after the bill is enacted.
Interested in a job in a hot-button field? Check out ACHT’s physical therapy aide training program!