Does Health Insurance Cover Physical Therapy?

Have you ever wondered if your health insurance will cover those physical therapy sessions your doctor recommended? It’s a common question, especially with the rising costs of healthcare. Physical therapy (PT) can be a lifeline for recovery and pain management, but navigating the insurance landscape can be daunting. That’s where we come in.

In this guide, we’ll unravel the complexities of physical therapy insurance coverage. You’ll learn what’s typically covered, how to maximize your benefits, and what to do if your claim is denied. No matter what your insurance situation is, we’ve got you covered.

Understanding Health Insurance and Physical Therapy

Before we dive into specifics, let’s clarify some key concepts about health insurance and how it relates to physical therapy:

Types of Health Insurance Plans

The type of health insurance plan you have plays a significant role in your PT coverage:

  • HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations): These plans typically require you to see a primary care physician (PCP) for a referral to a physical therapist. You’ll also need to stay within their network of providers for coverage.
  • PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations): PPOs offer more flexibility than HMOs. You can see in-network or out-of-network physical therapists, but staying in-network usually means lower costs.
  • EPOs (Exclusive Provider Organizations): Like HMOs, EPOs require you to use in-network providers, but they may not require a PCP referral.
  • POS (Point of Service): POS plans are a hybrid of HMOs and PPOs. You’ll usually need a referral but have more flexibility to see out-of-network providers.

Medicare and Medicaid: These government programs have specific rules for physical therapy coverage, which we’ll discuss later in detail.

Key Insurance Terminology

Understanding the lingo is crucial for navigating your insurance benefits:

  • Deductible: The amount of money you have to fork over before your insurance starts to pay.
  • Copay: A fixed amount you pay for each PT session.
  • Coinsurance: The percentage of the cost you share with your insurer after meeting your deductible.
  • Out-of-pocket maximum: The maximum amount you’ll pay in a year for covered services.
  • In-network provider: A physical therapist or facility that has a contract with your insurance company.
  • Out-of-network provider: A provider who doesn’t have a contract with your insurance company, typically resulting in higher costs.

By grasping these fundamentals, you’ll be well-equipped to understand your specific plan’s coverage and make informed decisions about your physical therapy journey.

Also read: How Health Insurance Companies Make Money?

What Does Health Insurance Typically Cover?

What Does Health Insurance Typically Cover

Now that you understand the basics of health insurance and physical therapy, let’s dive into what your plan might actually cover for your PT needs.

Medically Necessary Physical Therapy

The key phrase here is “medically necessary.” For your health insurance to cover physical therapy, your treatments must be deemed medically necessary by your doctor or healthcare provider. This means the therapy must be:

  • Essential for treating a medical condition: PT is often covered for conditions like post-surgical recovery, injuries (sprains, strains, fractures), chronic pain conditions (arthritis, back pain), and neurological disorders (stroke, Parkinson’s).
  • Expected to improve function: The goal of PT is to restore your mobility, reduce pain, and improve your overall quality of life. Your insurance will likely require documentation demonstrating progress and a plan for continued improvement.
  • Prescribed by a licensed healthcare provider: A doctor’s referral or prescription is usually required for insurance coverage.

The number of PT visits covered per year can vary significantly depending on your plan, the severity of your condition, and your progress. Some plans might cover a limited number of sessions, while others may have more flexible limits.

Exclusions and Limitations

While health insurance often covers medically necessary PT, there are some common exclusions and limitations you should be aware of:

  • Maintenance therapy: Once you’ve reached a certain level of recovery, ongoing maintenance PT might not be covered.
  • Wellness programs: PT sessions focused solely on general fitness or wellness are typically not covered.
  • Pre-existing coHow to Maximize Your Physical Therapy Insurance Benefits
  • nditions: Some plans might have limitations on coverage for pre-existing conditions.
  • Lifetime or annual caps: While less common now, some plans might have limits on the total amount they’ll cover for PT in your lifetime or in a given year.

It’s crucial to review your policy documents carefully or contact your insurance provider to understand the specific exclusions and limitations that apply to you

Don’t leave money on the table! Here’s how to get the most out of your physical therapy insurance benefits:

Understand Your Policy:

  • Read your insurance policy documents thoroughly to understand your coverage details, including deductibles, copays, coinsurance, and any visit limitations.
  • If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call your insurance company directly. They can clarify any confusing terms and help you understand your specific coverage.

Choose In-Network Providers:

  • In-network physical therapists have a contract with your insurance company, which usually means lower out-of-pocket costs for you.
  • You can find in-network providers by searching your insurance company’s online directory or calling their customer service line.

Get Pre-Authorization (if required):

  • Some insurance plans require pre-authorization before they’ll cover physical therapy. This means getting approval from your insurer before starting treatment.
  • Check your policy to see if pre-authorization is necessary. If it is, your doctor or physical therapist can help you with the process.

Also read: Does Health Insurance Cover Gym Memberships?

What to Do If Your Claim is Denied?

A denied claim isn’t the end of the road. Here’s what you can do:

Understand the Reason for Denial:

  • Carefully review the denial letter to understand why your claim was denied. Frequently cited causes include incomplete documentation, inaccurate coding, and lack of medical necessity.
  • If you need clarification, contact your insurance company.

Appeal the Decision:

  • Gather all relevant documentation, including medical records, doctor’s notes, and any supporting evidence for the medical necessity of your PT.
  • Write a clear and concise appeal letter explaining why your claim should be covered.
  • Follow your insurance company’s appeals process carefully.
  • If you need help, consider seeking assistance from a patient advocate or attorney specializing in insurance claims.

Options If You Don’t Have Insurance or Have Limited Coverage

Don’t despair if you lack insurance or have limited coverage. You still have options:

Direct Pay/Cash-Based Physical Therapy:

  • Many physical therapists offer cash-based services, where you pay directly for each session. This can be more affordable than you think, especially if you negotiate a package deal.
  • Consider this option if you have a high-deductible plan or want more control over your treatment choices.

Sliding Scale Clinics:

  • These clinics offer services on a sliding scale based on your income, making physical therapy more accessible for those with financial constraints.
  • Search online or ask your doctor for recommendations on sliding scale clinics in your area.

Remember, physical therapy is an investment in your health. Don’t let lack of money keep you from receiving the care you require. Explore these options and get back on track to recovery!


Does insurance cover physical therapy for back pain?

Yes, most health insurance plans cover physical therapy for back pain if it’s deemed medically necessary by your doctor. The type and duration of covered treatment can vary depending on your plan, the severity of your back pain, and your progress in therapy.

Can I get physical therapy without a referral?

It depends on your insurance plan. Some plans allow direct access to physical therapists without a referral, while others require a referral from your primary care physician or specialist. Check your policy to see what’s required for you.

Is physical therapy covered by Medicare?

Yes, Medicare Part B covers medically necessary outpatient physical therapy. However, there may be restrictions on the number of visits and requirements for documentation of medical necessity. Medicare Advantage plans may have different coverage rules, so check your specific plan for details.

How many physical therapy sessions are usually covered by insurance?

The number of covered sessions varies greatly depending on your plan, your condition, and your progress. Some plans have a set number of visits per year, while others might offer coverage as long as your PT is deemed medically necessary. It’s important to communicate with your physical therapist and insurer to understand your coverage limits.

What happens if I go to a physical therapist out of network?

Going out of the network usually means higher out-of-pocket costs. While your insurance might still cover some of the costs, you’ll likely have to pay a higher coinsurance or meet a separate out-of-network deductible. It’s generally more cost-effective to see in-network providers whenever possible.


Understanding your health insurance coverage for physical therapy is crucial for making informed decisions about your care. By knowing the ins and outs of your plan, choosing in-network providers, and being proactive about communication with your insurer, you can maximize your benefits and get the most out of your PT sessions. Remember, physical therapy is an investment in your health and well-being, and with the right knowledge, you can ensure that your insurance works for you.