Kaiser Health News’ Andrew Villegas reports that the nation’s 125,000-plus nurse practitioners (and physician assistants, certified nurse midwives and dental therapists) are stepping up to fill the void created by America’s shortage of primary care physicians.
The Association of American Medical Colleges projects that the shortage of primary care physicians will reach 46,000 by 2025 and it will only increase if health care reform efforts succeed and millions of Americans are added to the ranks of the insured, Villegas writes. Nurse practitioners typically handle basic services such as physical exams, common health issues and some drug prescriptions.
Debate over national health overhaul legislation has heightened the sense of urgency about primary care and given nurses ammunition for their argument. “The biggest group of clinicians that will be in shortage with universal (insurance) coverage will be those who provide primary care — and that’s what nurse practitioners are so extraordinarily good at,” says Mary Mundinger, dean of the Columbia University School of Nursing.
There is precedent: Massachusetts’ 2008 health insurance overhaul recognized the 5,600 nurse practitioners as primary care providers who would be reimbursed through private insurance and Medicaid at the same rates as doctors. The nurses, however, must work under written protocols that designate a physician who can provide medical direction.
Despite questions from the American Medical Association, proponents argue that practitioners, who are typically required to have a master’s degree in nursing and work under a doctor’s supervision, know their limits and have proven their competence and effectiveness over several decades.