On Tuesday, the state Senate passed two of three bills that aim to expand certain health care providers' scope of practice as a means to address California's primary care physician shortage, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Lin, AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/28).
Only 16 of the state's 58 counties have the supply of physicians recommended by the federal government.
In addition, the Association of American Medical Colleges says that nearly 30% of California's doctors are nearing retirement age.
Meanwhile, the state is preparing to expand Medi-Cal and require most residents to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which could exacerbate the shortage. Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program.
Details of Bills
In February, state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) introduced a set of bills (SB 491, SB 492 and SB 493) that, respectively, would expand the scope of practice for nurse practitioners, optometrists and pharmacists to address the physician shortage (California Healthline, 4/17).
On Tuesday, the Senate passed SB 491 and SB 492, which now go to the Assembly for consideration.
Later this week, the Senate is expected to vote on SB 493.
Opposition to Bills
The California Medical Association opposes all of the bills, saying the state should focus on alternate ways to address the physician shortage, such as:
- Building additional medical schools;
- Adding medical residency slots; and
- Expanding programs to help physicians pay off student loans in exchange for working in underserved communities (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/28).
Sen. Hanna-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said, "To allow nurse practitioners to practice without any oversight endangers the community" (McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, 5/28).
She added that "we really need to make sure that even if people live in underserved communities that they get the best health care we can provide" (AP/Sacramento Bee