- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Patients would have direct access to physical therapists without needing a doctor’s referral, under a bill that has won final legislative approval.

The measure gained final legislative passage with a 33-2 Senate vote this week, sending it to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk. The House had agreed earlier to the proposal with a 65-33 vote.

Patients now have to obtain a referral from a licensed doctor to see a physical therapist.

The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1RMOBdZ ) that bill sponsor Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, says by doing away with that recommendation requirement, physical therapy services would be more easily accessible to patients.

“I think what it is going to mean is a more convenient option, more choices,” Mills said Tuesday.

Opponents, including several medical organizations, say the new rules mean therapists could miss a potentially life-threatening health problem. Orthopedists, who usually make the referrals, opposed the bill.

“This is dangerous for patients, and they will be forced to pay out of pocket as insurance does not pay for undiagnosed conditions,” Clark Gunderson, legislative chairman of the Louisiana Orthopaedic Association, said in a statement.

To qualify for the new rules, a physical therapist would be required to have a doctorate in physical therapy from an accredited institution or five years of licensed clinical practice.

Therapists would be banned from offering a medical diagnosis of a disease. The bill says if the patient fails to show “measurable or functional” improvement within 30 calendar days, the therapist would have to refer the patient to another health care provider.

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Senate Bill 291: www.legis.la.gov

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