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Iowa passes law to expand the role of Physician Assistants
Physician assistants play a critical role in providing healthcare access to millions of Americans. These hard-working men and women perform many of the same tasks medical physicians do, including diagnosing and preventing illness, developing custom care plans, prescribing medications, and answering patient questions. In many cases, physician assistants also act as a patient’s primary medical contact. This is particularly true in rural areas of the country where fewer physicians serve many patients.
While physician assistants serve an essential role in the medical practice, they don’t have full practice authority. This means that they’re required by law to work under the guidance of a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).
The roles of physician assistants: differing viewpoints
Some experts say this requirement is best for everyone involved. While all physician assistants have at least a master’s degree, they aren’t required to complete four years of medical school or a residency program.
Other experts argue that the strict educational requirements of PA training are on par with that of physicians and nurse practitioners. Students must complete at least 3,000 hours of direct patient experience working as a paramedic, medical assistant, or athletic trainer, and complete an additional 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. In addition, the guidelines requiring physician assistants to work directly under physicians were first established more than 50 years ago, when physician assistant was a new, untested position.
AAPA and the Optimal Team Practice
The American Association of Physician Assistants (AAPA) argues these guidelines need a major overhaul. Instead of helping to provide essential access to healthcare, they slow things down, and in some cases, prevent patients from receiving necessary services.
In 2017, the AAPA passed a new policy known as the Optimal Team Practice. Under this action, Physicians, PAs, and other healthcare professionals work in collaboration without the administrative burdens many states currently require.
During the last two years, the AAPA has lobbied states to act and eliminate the relationship requirements between physicians and physician assistants. Additionally, the AAPA hopes to create a separate medical board to regulate PAs and make PAs eligible for direct payment from all public and private insurers.
Coronavirus pandemic and evolving opinions
So far, there’s significant resistance, but that may be changing due to the coronavirus pandemic. As medical systems all over the country become increasingly strained by the outbreak of COVID-19, a growing number of state legislators and governors are taking action.
Iowa expands the role and abilities of physician assistants
On March 18, 2020, Iowa governor Kim Reynolds signed SF 2357 into law. The bill expands the role of physician assistants by allowing full prescriptive privileges, as well as certain legal protections provided to other healthcare professionals. SF 2357 also gives PAs full reimbursement by Medicaid.
“Enabling physician assistants to better serve the health care needs of Iowans will result in better care in a more timely fashion,” said Gov. Reynolds. “As the state continues to combat the spread of COVID-19 and the strains it will place on our health care system, this will be yet another tool in our arsenal.”
It isn’t just the coronavirus, though. For the past few years, legislators and healthcare experts have warned that the state is quickly running short on medical professionals. One study conducted by The Robert Graham Center found that Iowa will need at least 119 new primary care physicians by 2030, due to the state’s aging population and growing rates of insured residents.
Iowa’s new law doesn’t eliminate the required PA-physician relationship, but it does loosen guidelines and update them with current policy. This is especially beneficial for people living in rural areas––a group that accounts for 30 percent of Iowa’s population. People require healthcare, regardless of where they live, and expanding access to various resources matters.
Updating the abilities of physician assistants doesn’t allow these professionals to do anything they want. On the contrary, it enables them to practice to the full extent of their abilities, using their years of training and expertise.
Iowa is the latest state to expand the role and abilities of physician assistants, but it won’t be the last. As coronavirus continues to spread and America’s health landscape changes, other parts of the country are following suit, including Michigan and Florida.