By Julie Sherwood, staff writer
When Zoe Fackelman invited U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, to visit her business, Lake Country Physical Therapy & Sportscare, PC, this summer, it was about more than showing off her state-of-the-art facility.
Founded by Fackelman in 1987, Lake Country Physical Therapy takes a holistic approach, treating the entire body rather than strictly an area of injury or pain. But like other medical facilities of its kind, providing the highest level of care often hinges on what happens in Washington.
Concerned about two specific issues – student loan debt that is driving physical therapists away from rural areas, and a cap on Medicare coverage for outpatient rehabilitation services — Fackelman called on Reed.
The congressman spent about an hour touring Lake Country on Parrish Street in Canandaigua, talking with patients and Fackelman about the legislation that is sitting in committees on Capitol Hill.
“People are not getting the care they need if they reach the cap,” said Fackelman.
Called The Medicare Access To Rehabilitation Services Act (bill H.R. 1546 in the House and S.829 in Senate), the legislation would lift the cap Congress included in a 1997 Balanced Budget Act. The act created an annual financial limit on physical therapy and speech-language pathology services and a separate cap on occupational therapy for all outpatient settings (except for hospital outpatient departments).
The coverage limit hurts patients and actually costs the government more money, Fackelman said. “The cost of care is significantly less here (in her facility) than at the hospital,” she said.
Congress has typically allowed for exceptions to the law, renewing a moratorium annually, said Mandy Frohlich, senior director of government affairs for the American Physical Therapy Association. The current moratorium is set to expire this Dec. 31. With uncertainty in Washington and the growing need for PT services for Medicare recipients, it is more crucial than ever that the cap be permanently removed, Frohlich said. Those most affected by the cap would be the most vulnerable, such as those who have suffered a stroke or have chronic illnesses such as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease, she said.
On the issue of student-loan debt, Fackelman told Reed it is hard to recruit physical therapists to Canandaigua.” It is very difficult for me to get physical therapists here because the reimbursements are so low,” she said. “People do not move to New York state to do PT.”
The Physical Therapist Student Loan Repayment Eligibility Act of 2011 (H.R. 1426/S.975) would provide up to $30,000 in loan forgiveness per year for two years of service in an underserved area. The funding could also help address the student loan debt of physical therapists who otherwise may not choose to practice in rural or underserved areas where salaries tend to be lower.
Reed said he supports the loan-repayment legislation. On the legislation to remove the cap, Reed told Fackelman, “we are taking a hard look at it. It all comes down to how we can make it affordable.”
Responding to an email inquiry a few weeks ago, Reed’s communications director, Tim Kolpien, said Reed had not yet taken a position on H.R. 1546, the legislation to remove the cap.
Frohlich said Fackelman “is shining example” of the kind of advocacy needed to call attention to the key issues that affect patients and the community.” We have strong advocates and they get involved,” she said.