Op-ed: Nurse Practitioners Hold Key to Expanding Access to Quality Care

By Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46)

Pennsylvania is in the midst of a healthcare crisis, and nowhere is the problem more obvious than in rural communities. Insurance and service costs have gone through the roof. Many doctors are refusing to accept new patients, and some are even turning away existing patients who rely on government-sponsored health care coverage.

The troubling financial trends in the industry are not the only cause for concern; availability of health care is becoming an even more serious challenge. As older doctors in rural areas retire, fewer new physicians are opening up shop to replace them. This means that many patients have to drive 30 minutes or more just to find one doctor who will accept new patients.

Without action by lawmakers to ease this crisis, patients may reach a point in the near future when they are forced to travel an hour or more just to see a doctor – if they can find proper care at all.

As the number of primary care doctors in rural areas continues to decline, nurse practitioners are uniquely positioned to fill the need for quality healthcare services. Unfortunately, state law prevents nurse practitioners from providing services to the full extent of their knowledge, training and education.

Even the most experienced and capable nurse practitioners can only serve patients under business contracts with physicians. This severely limits their ability to expand care options to a broader number of people.

Studies have shown that patient outcomes are as good or better for patients who are treated by a nurse practitioner when compared to care by a physician. The only thing stopping them from playing a larger role in meeting the growing demand for services is our antiquated state law.

The Senate passed a bill I introduced last year that would address this problem by providing full practice authority to advanced practice registered nurses. Rep. Jesse Topper introduced a companion bill in the State House. These qualified providers would still be required to complete a period of collaboration with a doctor for a number of years, but they would be allowed to serve patients to the full extent of their knowledge and training without a contract with a physician thereafter.

Essentially, the bill would allow nurse practitioners to help stop the slow bleed of healthcare providers out of smaller communities. It does not solve all of the issues plaguing the health care community, but it is a necessary tourniquet as new ideas are debated at the state and federal levels of government.

Much of the debate regarding healthcare coverage in recent years has centered on dollars and cents, and for good reason. The problem is extremely complex – and expensive. It is estimated that spending on healthcare in the U.S. is approximately $3 trillion annually. We can’t solve those issues easily, and it certainly won’t happen overnight.

However, it is within our power to expand the number of qualified healthcare providers to ensure patients can continue to access quality services in their home communities for the foreseeable future. Providing full practice authority to nurse practitioners is a step that is certain to ease this crisis and expand access to care without costing taxpayers or ratepayers another dime. 

CONTACT: Katrina Anderson (717) 787-1463