Prescriptions (often called referrals) are written orders given by a practitioner (MD, DO, NP, DPM, Dentists) to give instructions regarding the administration of physical therapy. Valid prescriptions should contain a date, diagnosis, frequency of treatment, and duration of treatment (e.g., 2x/week for 8 weeks). The prescription is valid from the date administered until the end of the indicated duration. When the visits are exhausted or the time indicated by the duration has passed, it must be renewed for continued treatment. Therefore it is prudent to use it in a timely manner. Most commercial insurances(in/out of network) require a prescription if a patient wants to seek reimbursement for their treatment, regardless of the direct access laws of New York State.
Authorizations, on the other hand, are administered by insurance companies to predetermine the amount of physical therapy they will pay for. They will often require a prescription from a practitioner and written reports from the therapist to make that determination. It should be noted that just because your insurance company allows a certain amount of physical therapy benefits annually, it doesn’t mean they will authorize (and therefore pay) for all of those visits.