Does Insurance Pay for Physical Therapy?

In most cases, insurance will cover physical therapy. But the number of sessions may be limited, and you may have to demonstrate progress to continue.

A.M. Steinbach
Written byA.M. Steinbach
A.M. Steinbach
A.M. SteinbachInsurance Writer
  • Full-time writer for 5+ years

  • Two-time Emmy Award nominee

A Harvard graduate, Mark has worked as a freelance personal finance and tech writer. He’s also written for Saturday Night Live.

Featured in

media logomedia logomedia logomedia logo
Evelyn Pimplaskar
Evelyn PimplaskarEditor-in-Chief, Director of Content
  • 10+ years in insurance and personal finance content

  • 30+ years in media, PR, and content creation

Evelyn leads Insurify’s content team. She’s passionate about creating empowering content to help people transform their financial lives and make sound insurance-buying decisions.

Featured in

media logomedia logomedia logo

Updated December 21, 2022 at 11:00 AM PST

Insurify partners with top insurance companies to provide a comprehensive comparison experience. However, the insurance experts writing our content operate independently of our partners. Check out reviews from over 3,000 satisfied customers, how we make money, our data methodology, and our editorial standards.

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of physical therapy in some form. Physical therapists work closely with patients to help them recover from injury, regain strength after surgery, and manage certain conditions. It’s no wonder physical therapy is a key part of many patients’ healthcare plans.

Health plans differ in how much physical therapy they’ll cover, how much your plan will pay, and how much you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket.

Does insurance cover physical therapy?

In almost all cases, physical therapy will be covered by insurance if the services are deemed “medically necessary.” Generally, major healthcare providers consider physical therapy to be medically necessary if it:

  • Has been prescribed by a physician

  • Improves the patient’s functioning in a reasonable period of time

  • Outlines attainable, quantifiable goals for the patient

  • Requires the skills of a licensed, trained physical therapist (as opposed to another type of medical specialist)

For instance, a patient may receive physical therapy to regain function after a stroke, slow physical deterioration due to illness, or improve motor function after surgery. In all these cases, physical therapy likely would be considered medically necessary.

Physical therapy isn’t considered medically necessary if:

  • The patient’s condition isn’t expected to improve in response to therapy

  • The patient can gradually regain function without therapeutic services

  • Treatment will not lead to medical improvement

For example, if a patient received physical therapy to return to a sport, such treatment is not considered a medical necessity. Additionally, if a physician expects a patient to regain function as a natural part of the healing process, physical therapy will not be considered medically necessary.

Coverage for assistive equipment or specialty PT procedures may vary based on your insurance plan. For more details on what’s covered in your plan, reach out to your insurance provider directly. You can also discuss coverage with your physical therapist, as they’re often well-versed in coverage options.

Learn More: How to Compare Medicare Advantage and Get the Best Plan

Will employer-sponsored health plans cover physical therapy?

In the majority of cases, employer-sponsored health plans cover physical therapy. It’s important to find a therapist in your insurance network, which will reduce your out-of-pocket costs. Visit your insurance company’s website, which often includes a database of in-network healthcare providers.

Read your policy carefully to determine how many sessions are covered in a calendar year. For example, Kaiser Permanente limits physical therapy coverage to 40 sessions per year.[1] If you need more sessions, you’ll need a letter from your physical therapist outlining the need for further services, which can help certify additional coverage.

Does Medicare cover physical therapy?

Medicare Part B covers outpatient rehabilitation, which includes physical therapy. To qualify for coverage, a physician or non-physician practitioner must certify the physical therapy treatment as medically necessary.[2] To prove medical necessity, documentation must outline how physical therapy will improve the patient’s physical functioning or slow physical deterioration.

Medicare guidelines state that the duration of these services must be reasonable. Your physical therapist will perform an initial evaluation to determine the amount and frequency of therapy sessions. Medicare recipients will still have to pay the annual Part B deductible, which was $233 in 2022.

Will Obamacare cover physical therapy?

Rehabilitative and habilitative healthcare are covered under the Affordable Care Act, which means at least part of your physical therapy will be paid if you have a plan from the Health Insurance Marketplace.[3] Depending on the state you’re enrolled in, the number of physical therapy sessions that are covered in a year may be capped.

Check Out: What Is the Affordable Care Act?

Does Medicaid cover physical therapy?

Medicaid covers physical therapy in 41 states, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of all state Medicaid directors. In states where Medicaid covers physical therapy, 25 have limitations on services.[4]

Keep in Mind: If a state considers a type of healthcare service to be an “optional benefit,” it may still be covered. However, there may be stricter eligibility requirements or fewer sessions covered. Contact your state Medicaid agency for more information.

How does physical therapy coverage work?

Insurance coverage for physical therapy functions similarly to coverage for other medical needs. To understand how much you’ll owe for your physical therapy services, here are a few terms to familiarize yourself with:

  • Health Insurance Deductible: This is the amount you pay out of pocket before insurance starts covering your expenses. So you may have to pay for a few of your physical therapy sessions in full before insurance coverage kicks in.[5]

  • Copay: This is the amount you pay on a per-session basis. The amount is determined by your insurance plan and doesn’t change from session to session.

  • Co-insurance: After you’ve met your deductible, this is the portion of costs you’re responsible for. If your co-insurance is 20%, this means you pay 20% of the costs associated with physical therapy, then insurance covers the rest.

  • Out-of-pocket maximum: When you hit this amount in a year, your insurance plan will pay 100% of covered costs going forward, until the new plan year.

If you work with a therapist who isn’t in your network, you’ll end up paying more out of pocket. Receiving a referral from your primary care physician is a good way to find physical therapists in your network.

Learn More: What’s the Difference Between Deductible and Out-of-Pocket in Health Insurance?

How much does physical therapy cost with insurance coverage?

To help understand how physical therapy benefits work, let’s look at an example of a summary of insurance benefits in a specific state.

Let’s say you’re a Massachusetts resident who receives Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance through your employer.[6] After a fall, you receive knee surgery that will require an initial 10 sessions of outpatient physical therapy.

Your deductible is $2,500, which you already reached due to the medical expenses associated with your knee surgery. If you work with an out-of-network physical therapist, your cost is 20% of the bill, while insurance will cover the rest. If you work with an in-network physical therapist, you’ll simply pay a $45 copay for each session.

You decide it’s a good idea to stay in your insurance network — and end up paying $450 total for your 10 physical therapy sessions.

Learn More: What Is a PPO and How Does It Work?

How much does physical therapy cost without insurance?

Without insurance, you’ll pay full price for each session. This price will vary based on the specific services you receive and the duration of the treatment. Fortunately, some physical therapy providers are willing to negotiate with patients who don’t have insurance, or even offer discounts for certain bundles of sessions.

What to do if your insurance won’t cover physical therapy

An insurer might decline coverage of physical therapy for several reasons. First, make sure there wasn’t a billing error or eligibility issue. Reaching out to your physical therapist’s office or your insurer is a good first step to make sure there hasn’t been a clerical error.

If your coverage was denied because the treatment was deemed medically unnecessary, consider filing an appeal. Federal law gives you 180 days to appeal your claim denial. Then, contact your PT’s office or your physician to request documentation that proves treatment was medically necessary.

Physical therapy and insurance FAQs

Determining what your insurance covers isn’t always easy, so it’s natural to have questions. Here are the answers to a few commonly asked questions.

  • Do you need a referral for physical therapy?

    All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow physical therapists to evaluate patients and provide some treatment without requiring patients to first get a referral from a physician.[7] Still, some states impose limits on this access, which you can learn more about from this map, courtesy of the American Physical Therapy Association.

  • Can your insurance deny you physical therapy?

    An insurance company can deny coverage if it doesn’t deem physical therapy medically necessary. Physical therapy for preventative care or elective procedures might fall under this umbrella. If so, you can try a cash-based physical therapy practice that works around insurance constraints to provide affordable care.

  • How long does physical therapy take?

    Physical therapy sessions are often 30 to 90 minutes and occur two to three times per week. You’ll work with your doctor or physical therapists to determine how many sessions you need. Insurance companies typically require progress reports from your PT at regular intervals (often every 10 sessions) to make sure the treatment is having the desired effect.

Sources

  1. Kaiser Permanente. "Summary of Benefits and Coverage." Accessed December 19, 2022
  2. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. "Complying with Outpatient Rehabilitation Therapy Documentation Requirements." Accessed December 19, 2022
  3. HealthCare.gov. "What Marketplace health insurance plans cover." Accessed December 19, 2022
  4. Kaiser Family Foundation. "Medicaid Benefits Database Notes and Methods." Accessed December 19, 2022
  5. HealthCare.gov. "Glossary: Deductible." Accessed December 19, 2022
  6. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts HMO Blue Inc.. "Schedule of Benefits." Accessed December 19, 2022
  7. American Physical Therapy Association. "Direct Access Advocacy." Accessed December 19, 2022
A.M. Steinbach
A.M. SteinbachInsurance Writer

A.M. is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and content marketing strategist who's worked with major brands in insurance, tech, finance, and healthcare. He also contributes to The Average Joe, a personal finance newsletter that reaches over 250,000 daily readers. Since 2019, he's written for Insurify, breaking down a diverse range of insurance topics into crisp, readable prose.

Evelyn Pimplaskar
Edited byEvelyn PimplaskarEditor-in-Chief, Director of Content
Evelyn Pimplaskar
Evelyn PimplaskarEditor-in-Chief, Director of Content
  • 10+ years in insurance and personal finance content

  • 30+ years in media, PR, and content creation

Evelyn leads Insurify’s content team. She’s passionate about creating empowering content to help people transform their financial lives and make sound insurance-buying decisions.

Featured in

media logomedia logomedia logo