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5 Ways Affordable Care Act is Impacting Physical Therapists

Posted by Brian Spence on Jul 16, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Physical Therapists, PT, Allied Health, Affordable Care Act, HealthcareThe Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as the ACA, is changing the way that Physical Therapists approach their professional careers in a variety of ways.  Though the ACA has provided a broader spectrum of care to those that may not have had an insurance option before, it has impacted physical therapy practitioners in a way that patients may not be getting the same quality of care.  This is by no means - in most cares - their fault, but rather by the demands being put on the them and their patients.  

Five Ways The Affordable Care Act (ACA) Has Impacted Physical Therapists

  1. More Patients - Now that the ACA has been written into law, the Physical Therapist to patient demand has greatly increased.  Where Physical Therapists may have been seeing 5 or 6 patients a day, they are now seeing 8 or 9 patients a day.

    Physical therapy and other cost-effective preventative and rehabilitative treatment options likely will increase in popularity compared to more expensive options like surgery because of the aggressive approach in pushing for prevention.  The greater the number of patient ratio to physical therapist, the greater chance for quality of care to suffer, and physical therapist to become burned out.
  2. Reimbursements Controlled by Insurance - The Affordable Care Act set out to expand health coverage to all Americans. Lawmakers on the other hand, sought to reduce overall healthcare costs. In an effort to accomplish both of these objectives, reimbursements was the option for seeking the balance.  

    Sheree DiBiase, a Physical Therapist, wrote, “These changes have been felt in our physical therapy rehabilitation world already this year. We have seen a reduction in visits allowed for our consumers, a reduction in reimbursement of up to 20-40% per visit, and consolidation of insurance carriers who are controlling the rate of this reimbursement like never before.”  There are several different plans that do not provide out-of-network benefits, and with most having modified fee schedules, the reimbursements are substantially lower.  Reimbursements are having a huge impact on privately owned Physical Therapy offices because these low, and often slow reimbursements, are keeping them from keeping t heir doors open.

  3. Computer Documentation Demands - On top of trying to provide the best possible care for their patients, Physical Therapists have to keep up with the ever changing documentation demands.  These demands are, for the most part, all computerized and the software for documentation can be time consuming, not to mention there is usually a huge learning curve.  

    Although it is believed that computer documentation will have a positive affect in the future on ways hospitals, doctors, and physical therapists communicate about patients, the process of getting there is grueling and puts even more stress on the way we give or receive care.

  4. Patient Co-Pays and Deductibles - With the ever rising costs of patient co-pays and deductibles, comes the fewer number of visits that patients can afford.  This greatly impacts both patients and the physical therapist.  Physical Therapist work hard to build individual therapy plans for each patient and in an effort for those plans to work, the patient needs to be financially available.  

    If a patient cannot afford the cost for the number of visits required by the physical therapist, then both the patient and physical therapist pay the price.

  5. Cost for Healthcare Coverage for Employees - Before the ACA hikes in insurance premiums, insurance was already at its peak for small business owners to provide insurance for their employee's. An article written in the Albuquerque Journal News, the ACA includes provisions designed to “remake the small-group market.” The idea was that the new law would end gaps in small group premiums that are usually tied to employers’ past medical claims or health status of their employees. However, this idea is not working the way it was planned because there are many businesses with many healthy employees and those companies are still seeing insurance rate hikes.

The fact is that the practitioners of Physical Therapy are being impacted in more negative ways than positive ones given the current state of The Affordable Care Act.  As with everything, there is a learning curve and with time, maybe all these things will be ironed out.  Given the fact that The Affordable Care Act is seeking prevention, hopefully all of these bumps in the road will be worth it.

If you are seeking job opportunities as a PT or wish to hire a Physical Therapist, please contact us.

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