Florida legislators this year may vote to allow non-doctors such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled substances. The move responds to Florida's doctor shortage and its developing flood of patients with new Obamacare health policies.
It's not just a Florida problem. John McGinnity, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, said a good way to describe the American doctor supply is with the old phrase "few and far between."
“We've known for a long time that we have a shortage of physicians,” McGinnity said.
Physician assistants and nurse practitioners earn different diplomas and medical licenses than medical doctors, or MDs. But many have advanced medical training and they’re allowed to diagnose, treat and prescribe within limits and under the supervision of regular physicians. Nurse practitioners must have earned Master's degrees or doctoral level diplomas
Still, they frequently encounter their legal limitations, according to Corinne Mixon, a lobbyist for the Florida Academy of Physician Assistants.
“Let's say you're in a rural area, a patient needs a medication and there's no doctor nearby to prescribe it,” Mixon said.
That's happening increasingly as the formerly uninsured find their way to healthcare policies under the federal health law.
Mixon is lobbying for passage of a bill to allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners virtually the same prescribing authority as licensed physicians.
The bill breaks no new ground. As a matter of fact, 48 other states already allow controlled substance prescribing authority for PAs. There's just one other state: Kentucky.
The physician assistants and nurse practitioners are also hoping for eventual authority to bill Medicaid as official providers. If the Florida Legislature expands Medicaid this year, a million new patients may have fewer problems finding someone to care for them.