State lawmakers in the House Health and Welfare Committee favorably moved two bills yesterday, one expanding access to physical therapy and another creating a Commission to study opioid abuse. The physical therapy bill, SB291 by Senator Mills, would allow patients to start physical therapy without a prescription or referral, it generated considerable debate. Supporters spoke about the positive impact physical therapy has had on their lives – even finding cancer or neurological conditions before their primary care physician or orthopaedist did. Senator Mills insisted that his bill does not change the fact that physical therapists cannot make a diagnosis and as such is “not an expansion of scope of practice.”
Dr. Meredith Warner an orthopedic surgeon based in Baton Rouge who treats workers’ comp patients in her practice, received applause from the public when she concluded her testimony by saying that “patients are not stupid, they know what they need.”
Opponents warned of the dangers of “receiving treatment before diagnosis” and about potential patient costs if insurance companies (workers’ comp included) refuse to pay for physical therapy without a referral. Julie Cherry of the AFL-CIO and Joe Jolissaint, an attorney representing claimants, spoke against the bill on behalf of the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council (WCAC) because it could create a conflict with the Medical Treatment Guidelines. Cherry and Jolissaint, who are both members of the WCAC, referenced the fact that rules promulgated by an office (i.e. Louisiana’s Medical Treatment guidelines) cannot trump state statutes. Further, Jolissaint said that he is concerned that some employers could take advantage of the increased availability of PT by directing injured workers who are unaware of their rights first to a physical therapist of the employer’s choice, thus muddling an injured worker’s right to a choice of physician. After three hours of debate, the measure passed favorably in the 9 to 5 vote.
HCR 113, which creates the Louisiana Commission on Preventing Opioid Abuse was also considered. Representative LeBas, the bill’s sponsor, explained: “This was a bill that was requested by the Workforce Commission because of the problems they are having with people getting addicted to opioid prescriptions drugs.” It moved favorably with minimal discussion beyond the acceptance of an amendment to add the president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or his designee to the list of required experts on the Commission.
Read more about the bills we’re following this Session on Comp Blog here.