SALT LAKE CITY — Insurance will cover physical therapy through the end of April and the Tullis family will be broke four months later, if they don't get some help.
"We will run out of financial resources by the end of summer," said John Tullis, whose 4-year-old son suffered a brain injury during unrelated surgery earlier this year.
"He is having to relearn to do all the things as a 4-year-old that he could easily do as a 3-year-old," the boy's father told members of the Utah House Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday. He said that without early, long-term and consistent rehabilitation, the child and the family will face "a lot of disadvantages."
"We have nowhere else to turn," Tullis said.
"Science, as we know it, has modified what we know about the ability of our brains and bodies and what they can do and recover from," he said. "Lifelong, unchangeable conditions aren't believed to be that anymore."
Hutchings proposes that, based upon need and meeting certain requirements, individuals and families can qualify for financial assistance to cover continued physical and occupational therapy that could "have a lifelong, dramatic impact on the person's life and sense of self, but, also the state budget" in the long run.
He said data has shown that providing therapy at a young age, specifically for children born with cerebral palsy or spina bifida, can impact physical ability in a very positive way.
The results are palpable, particularly for children who are impacted by these nonprogressive neurological conditions. Increased neurological recovery and improved functional capability is achieved when intense, focused and expertly applied rehabilitative therapy is provided, according to Hutchings.
Children who get the rehabilitative therapy that they need will have greater mobility, increased personal independence, less reliance on medical equipment and care, and be able to participate in more at home and at school. It creates a more capable individual, with a greater potential for employment, and, consequently, less dependent on state assistance.
"The doctors told my mom that I would never walk and talk, and look at me now, I can walk and talk," 9-year-old Kyler Pope, who has cerebral palsy, told lawmakers. "Physical therapy has helped me and I really want other people to get physical therapy as well, so, please help us."
Dr. Dale Hull, executive director at Neuroworx, a nonprofit outpatient physical therapy facility in Sandy, said children, especially, have the potential to make significant gains with the proper types of therapy.
But, oftentimes, that is out of reach because of limits placed by insurance benefit plans, which typically will cover just 20 physical therapy visits each year for a patient.
"The money … will make a significant difference for these children," Hull said, adding that not only will people with neurological injuries be more able to function and have a greater sense of independence, but their parents will face less stress and be more likely to keep their jobs and homes.
Andrew Justvig, a local comedian who was born with cerebral palsy, said he could have never accomplished his dream had he not been taught how to speak better.3 comments on this story
"Therapy changed my life," he told the committee, pleading with lawmakers to help change others' lives as well.
If HB461 passes, Utah would be the first state in the country to develop a fund for such beneficial therapy, Hutchings said. The bill, which he said has the support of the Utah Physical Therapy Association, would serve as a framework for other states to follow.
"There's not too many things that we talk about that change lives the way this does," Hutchings said.
The committee unanimously approved the bill following Thursday's presentation. It moves to the House for more discussion.