California State Senator Sen. Ed Hernandez (D- West Covina) introduced a package of bills yesterday aimed at addressing an expected doctor shortage as California prepares to insure millions of new patients under federal health care reforms.
Hernandez, an optometrist, said his bills would “expand services that can be provided by nurse practitioners, optometrists and pharmacists in order to help alleviate a shortage of primary care physicians, particularly in rural areas and inner cities.” The bills, SB491, SB492 and SB493 would allow nurse practitioners to see Medicaid and Medicare patients even if the doctors they work for do not. In addition, optometrists could check for high blood pressure, and pharmacists could order laboratory testing to detect diabetes.
"Here in the state of California, we have a capacity issue," he said. "We have a workforce shortage."
However, the bills are being opposed by The California Medical Association, which represents 35,000 throughout the state, on the grounds that “they would create two classes of care,” according to spokeswoman Molly Weedn. Instead the group feels that lawmakers should concentrate on “building more medical schools, adding residency slots and expanding programs that help doctors pay off student loans in exchange for working in underserved communities.”
"Making sure that we're utilizing everybody the best is the answer, not expanding scope of practice and changing job descriptions and moving pieces around," Weedn said.
Beginning next year, California will help millions of uninsured people gain access to health care in two key ways: Through a new insurance marketplace that will offer subsidies and tax credits to individuals and small business; and by expanding Medicaid, the federal-state health program for low-income people. The program is called Medi-Cal in California.
The shortage of doctors, particularly primary physicians remains one of the biggest health-related problems throughout the US. Since Feb. 10, at least 144 "scope-of-practice" bills have been proposed in 33 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The measures deal with how health care professionals (especially nurse practioners) can treat, diagnose and prescribe patients.
For a related article see (http://www.examiner.com/article/severe-doctor-shortage-new-york-threatens-state-s-health-care-reform