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Nurse practitioner reform could generate billions of savings in health care

New information released continues the debate over whether or not nurse practitioners should be able to practice without a collaborating physician.

Duke University of Law conducted a study revealing that changing the rules for nurse practitioners would create health care savings in Pennsylvania of at least $6.4 billion over the next decade.

The reform concludes that, “The existing barriers are unnecessary and weaken a key source of primary care. Removing these barriers is critical to ensuring access to high-quality care, managing health costs, and improving health for all Pennsylvanians.”

The Pennsylvania Medical Society is researching the study, but understands that the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners funded it.

Two bills are proposed regarding this issue: Senate Bill 717 and House Bill 765. If passed, Pennsylvania will be a full practice authority state. The District of Columbia and 21 other states have already implement similar laws.

State Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland) and State Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedord) introduced the bills.

“By profession, I’m a nurse, so I feel very passionately about this issue,” Vance said.

In Pennsylvania, a nurse practitioner must secure collaborative agreements with two physicians, which are basically contracts that allow the nurse to practice alone. Research shows that there are no health benefits to this law for patients, and it restricts their access to health care. Nurse practitioners are paying as much as $350 a month to establish a contract with a physician that they may never need to consult with, Vance said.

Nurse practitioners are said to be twice as likely to practice in rural areas compared to physicians, and more than 100 studies proved that their patient health outcomes are the same as, or better than, physician-led care. Nurse practitioners receive master’s degrees or doctorates and are nationally certified in their specialties. They can order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests and diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, infections and injuries. They prescribe medications and ultimately manage a patient’s care.

Giving nurse practitioners their independence would only make more health care available to patients.

“People will still have the ability to go to a physician if they choose,” Vance said. “And if we’re really interested in having health care for everyone that would certainly help.”

Currently, according to the Joint State Government Commission, Pennsylvania will need 11 percent more primary care physicians than it currently has by 2030.

A full practice authority reform has the potential to increase the number of nurse practitioners in Pennsylvania by 13 percent.

“It’s going to happen, the question is when,” Vance said. “We’ll get there. The need for patient care will drive this.”

Lenay Ruhl

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