Saturday, August 31, 2013

Nurse practitioner bill, SB 491 (Hernandez), is down but not out

In part because of its own hypocrisy, the nurse practitioner bill has for the present taken an inglorious swan dive. Nonetheless, we believe it'll come to the surface again. But first, let's get to the juicy hypocrisy.
Political readers on healthcare will no doubt recall the nurses' efforts this summer to stop schools from allowing teachers and parents to administer insulin injections to diabetic students. The argument the nurses used was that teachers and parents weren't educated and trained to recognize when insulin injections should be given, what harm might occur were such injections not timely given or withheld, and what adverse side-effects might be expected, let alone treated.  It was a "safety" issue, nothing to do with job preservation.

Physicians identified with these arguments because these arguments were the same that the physicians' lobbies were using to fend off passage of SB 491 (Hernandez).  That the nurse practitioner lobby let itself use these arguments on one hand while arguing against them on the other hand turned out to be the very essence of poor political timing. We doubt they'll repeat the mistake when the bill resurfaces which, in due course, we think it will. So the word we issue to the CMA and its allies is CAVE CANEM (beware of the dog, the sign that was found in the Roman rubble of an ancient eruption of Mt. Vesuvius).
In essence, relying on the idea that Obamacare will cause a shortage of physicians, emboldened by Senator Hernandez' willingness to take on the traditional physicians' organizations, the nurse practitioners (NPs) sought the right to practice at levels beyond their education and training and to do so without physician supervision. One argument the NPs used was the shortage of sophisticated medical care in rural  areas. What they didn't say was that the NPs would actually populate these areas and stay there. They  didn't promise to accept lower pay, either. In fact, why  should they?  If the NPs are licensed to practice medicine as physicians, shouldn't they then be entitled to equivalent remuneration? That, we say, would be the logical next step for the nursing lobby. But first it was necessary to get SB 491 passed and signed into law. That is why it's inevitable that the NPs will try again sooner or later.
The California Medical Association (CMA) successfully argued that quality and safety in medical care was dependent upon proper education and training. Physicians well know that it's hard enough  to make diagnoses and render treatment even with 12 to 15 years of college, medical school, and advanced internship and residency training.
The Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD) weighed in heavily on the side of the CMA. The UAPD  and the CMA acknowledged the importance of nurse practitioners but stopped short of allowing their level of education and training to be legislated as equivalent to physicians' level of education and training. Both organizations argued that the right way to fix anticipated physician shortage problems would be to expand post-graduate residency training positions for newly minted physicians and to expand the number of medical schools. The key  is to provide "properly trained individuals," not simply to invoke a "quick fix" by giving higher priority to the number of licensed professionals as opposed to the quality of the education and training of those professionals.   
Other organizations that helped to  oppose SB 491 included the California Neurology Society (CNS), California Academy of Family Physicians, Diabetes Coalition of California, California Society of Anesthesiologists, Blind Children's Center, California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Latino Physicians of California, Chinese Medical Dental Association, Let's Face it Together, Minority Health Institute, Dream Machine Foundation, Canvasback Missions, Lighthouse Mission, Time for Change Foundation, Here 4 Them, Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons, etc (if we've left out your organization, just let us know).
See our blog of 6 August 2013 and references
The Daily Journal, San Mateo County, "A Slipper (sic) Slope Indeed," Robert L. Weinmann, MD, 8/13/13

Sacramento Bee, "Expanding role of nurses a recipe for malpractice lawsuits," Robert L. Weinmann, MD, 4/24/13