For nursing universities all over the country, a spike in attendance might well be expected. If the full effect of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is instituted in 2014, then millions more Americans will be seeking healthcare. There are many pros and cons to the healthcare act that are in heated debate in Congress even today, but the main thing that might be affected, and already some insurance companies are enacting, is the change in status for nurse practitioners (NP) to be considered as primary care physicians across the board.
A nurse practitioner is someone who holds a master’s or doctorate degree obtained from any of the great nursing universities and is also referred to as an APN or Advanced Practice Nurse. All NP’s hold specialized degrees in areas such as geriatrics, pediatrics or oncology in order to have a private practice. Another key factor is that NP’s are licensed through a state board rather than a medical board. A NP has many responsibilities that range across the board, but basically they counsel and help to find treatments for patients. They advise people on well-being and health to prevent illness and can prescribe treatments (under differing state conditions).
Many primary care physicians see this as a threat to their jobs. With Highmark in Pennsylvania allowing its insured members to list NP’s as primary care physicians, many physicians see this as deep undercutting of their services. They are more highly trained in the medical field and have spent years in school to earn their degrees. They attend medical universities rather than nursing universities. With that comes high debt, but also a hard-earned salary. NP’s usually operate in conjunction with a physician in different settings and refer, or defer, to their medical expertise. While NP’s see to most of the everyday needs and illnesses, physicians counsel and treat patients with more difficult health problems. Medical counsels are advocates against allowing NP’s to be held in the same regard as physicians because of the lack of more advanced training.
However, many rural parts of the country already have this rule in place. The less populated an area, the more people that one physician sees, the further the distance to travel for some and a longer wait as well. To curb these problems and to provide care to more people, many NP’s were assigned to rural locations to be the primary care physician in the area for these hard-to-reach people. In Pennsylvania this was no different. Not much has changed for patients using Highmark; they will pay the same amount to see a NP as a physician.
Regardless of how this plays out on the national scale, it seems that the “playing ground” for family medical practices of all types are starting to even out, for better or for worse. While both sides want what is best for their patients, the final decision might just rest in the hands of politicians debating on Capitol Hill. Repealed or not, many physicians and NP’s will be seeing changes that will open care to millions more Americans, not just in rural areas, but it urban ones as well. Nursing universities will need to be prepared for the expected influx of students looking to jump into this changing and exciting field.