Feb 19, 2018

Facing Growing Pressure, States Are Tackling Outdated Nurse Practitioner Laws

With a looming physician shortage and a dearth of health care providers in rural areas, states are increasingly turning to nurse practitioners, a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), to meet the demand for health care. But in many states, outdated laws prohibit these skilled nurses from doing all that they were educated and trained, such as diagnosing patients, prescribing medications, and making referrals. That’s why, across the nation, powerful coalitions are working to break down these barriers to increase consumers’ access to the high-quality health care that nurse practitioners provide.

Here’s a closer look at this issue and what we expect to see in 2018.

Studies show that better laws for nurse practitioners mean greater consumer access and choice to high-quality health care.  Currently, nurse practitioners in 22 states and the District of Columbia can practice to the full extent of their education and training, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. In the remaining states, nurse practitioners face restrictions that limit what they can do.

But with growing bipartisan support in state legislatures nationwide and pressure from organizations like AARP, which considers consumer access to care  a “top priority,” states are increasingly answering the call to modernize their laws. In last year alone, legislatures in more than 20 states passed laws that  lifted some or all of these restrictions—meaning better access to care for people from nurses and reduced health care delivery costs. More than a dozen other states are considering lifting restrictions in 2018, including: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In South Carolina, state Sen. Tom Davis (R) is sponsoring legislation to make care more accessible in the Palmetto State, where obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease are prevalent and where 19 of 46 counties have 10 or fewer family doctors. One county has no physician at all.

“There’s no reason why nurses shouldn’t be allowed to provide health care services they are qualified to provide,” Davis told the Post and Courier. Governor Henry McMaster (R) said he would sign the bill into law out of concern for the health of these rural residents.

Oklahoma is another state considering a bill this year. The Sooner State ranks 49 out of 50 in access to primary care, which can cause people to experience delays in being seen, or even go without health care, when a qualified nurse may be just around the corner.

AARP Oklahoma and a diverse group of supporters are pushing forward a bill that would lift these restrictions. A similar measure last year died in the Oklahoma state legislature.

Calling the bill a “common-sense measure,” retired registered nurse and AARP Oklahoma Executive Board Member Mary Overall said, “Nurse practitioners are highly educated, have years of training and are eager to serve their fellow Oklahomans. Lawmakers should give them that chance.”

Note: The Campaign is closely watching states’ efforts to modernize these laws and will be reporting on the progress made in the months to come. If you are working to remove barriers to APRN practice and care and would like guidance or assistance with your efforts, please contact us