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Ray's Round Up: Could Nurses Fill Gap of Doctor Shortage?


As deadlines loom for action on the state budget and other critical matters, lawmakers returned to the State Capitol this week with a heightened sense of urgency.  A number of issues rose quickly to the surface, including renewed interest in legislation which would expand the scope of practice of nurse practitioners.  This bill has been introduced in the General Assembly for at least the past eight years, but it has suddenly gained momentum in the legislative process.

So what has happened?

First, more legislators and organizations recognize the need for this legislation.  As Pennsylvania’s population ages, the need for more medical professionals is growing – but the number of new doctors isn’t keeping up.  Nurse practitioners are medical professionals with extensive training, but their ability to practice is limited by Pennsylvania law.  Expanding the scope of practice for nurse practitioners would allow nurse practitioners to perform medical tasks such as prescribing medications without the supervision of a physician, ordering further tests, etc.

Second, an amendment to the legislation has been proposed that institutes a waiting period for new nurse practitioners before they are granted full practice authority – a common sense approach that ensures nurse practitioners have the proper experience to take on this expanded responsibility for their patients. This amendment has enabled the Pennsylvania Hospital Association to join other organizations like AARP, the Institute of Medicine, the National Governor’s Association, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Conference of State Legislators in support of this bill.

Finally, the political will to act on this legislation has shifted.  Senator Pat Vance, a long-time champion of expanding the scope of practice of nurse practitioners, has now been joined by a new champion in the State House of Representatives, Representative Jesse Topper. For the first time, the issue has significant support in both chambers of the General Assembly. 

A May 3 event in the State Capitol Rotunda brought supporters together to raise awareness of the legislation.  AARP’s Associate State Director of Advocacy, Desiree Hung, spoke to the crowd, emphasizing how the passage of the bill will enhance health care availability for older Pennsylvanians.  She noted that “care delayed is care denied” and pointed out how critical this is for family caregivers who need nurse practitioners to have a full scope of practice to assist them in their caregiving role.

There is, of course, no guarantee that the nurse practitioner bills in both chambers of the General Assembly (SB 717 and HB 765) will make it through the legislative process to become law, particularly with debate looming on a new state budget.  But the good news is this legislation is starting to move, as the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee is set to take action on SB 717 the week of May 8.  From there, it will take the combined efforts of all the supporters to allow Pennsylvania to expand the scope of practice of nurse practitioners.



“Ray’s Round Up” features updates on current state and federal issues by Ray Landis, AARP PA’s Advocacy Manager. 

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