OUR OPINION: Eureka! Direct access signed into law

The shortest path between two points is a straight line.

Archimedes first articulated the Law of Straight Lines around 200 B.C.

Last week, the approach was deployed again when Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill into law allowing patients direct access to professionals who could help them move their bodies better, strengthen their weakened muscles or relieve pain.

Parson signed Senate Bill 51 which removes referral and prescription requirements for those needing physical therapy services. Physical therapists use targeted techniques and treatments to restore mobility, improve range of motion, decrease pain and improve physical function of patients.

Beginning Aug. 28, physical therapists in Missouri with a doctorate or five years of clinical experience can evaluate a patient and initiate treatment, and offer educational resources and training, and fitness and wellness programs regardless of whether the patient has symptoms.

From a consumer standpoint, direct access is an important win for patients and therapists. By removing the physican-referral system, patients are provided convenient, easy and early access to services while reducing the cost of care by not requiring a referral from a physician or referring provider office.

The new law mandates physical therapists to consult with an approved health care provider within 10 visits or 30 days of starting a patient's treatment. Therapy can continue if the patient shows measurable signs of improvement but must cease if they don't, in which case the patient must be referred to a health care provider.

For the sponsors of the legislation, its passage was personal.

Rep. Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, who carried the legislation in the House, had a stroke about seven years ago and recovered through occupational and speech therapy.

"If it wasn't for his care, I wouldn't be here today," Shields said of her therapist who was at the signing ceremony. "I will tell you what I know about physical therapists: they can help you and encourage you when you're the most discouraged, they can be your cheerleader and they can really make you work when you don't want to work."

The signing of the bill truly was a win-win situation.

The real question is why it took so long to get passed.

At the signing ceremony, Parson pointed out he had carried similar legislation more than a decade ago when he was a legislator in the General Assembly.

Calling upon his experience as an out-state legislator who represented a rural constituency, Parson underscored the importance of this legislation.

"One thing we've learned is how important health care is, no matter where you live in the state of Missouri and how many opportunities people have to get it," he said. "By doing this bill, we're going to expand that to many more people and cut a lot of bureaucracy out of the way."

He added: "Physical therapy is going to be much easier to be offered, especially, I'm going to say, in rural areas, maybe some of your areas where you don't have the medical services they do. There's no reason we cannot make sure that that's available to the people of Missouri."

Passage of direct access again reminds one of how Archimedes discovered the law of buoyancy.

When stepping into a bath, Archimedes noticed the water level rose. He suddenly understood the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged.

Upon that discovery, he reportedly proclaimed, "Eureka! Eureka!"

Upon seeing passage of direct access, we proclaim, "Eureka!"

-- News Tribune