Legislation helps nurses

Two weeks after dozens of nurse practitioners visited the state Capitol to speak with lawmakers, the House of Representatives passed a measure aimed at improving access to health care services across Oklahoma.

House Bill 1013, by Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Wanette, and Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, would eliminate the requirement that nurse practitioners sign a collaborative agreement with a physician. The measure passed the House by a 72-20 vote.

“This will increase access to health care services for those who live in our rural communities where we have physician shortages,” said Cockroft. “I’m happy to carry a bill that helps people get the quality of care they need in a timely manner and close to home.”

“This is a great step toward improving access to health care services for all Oklahomans,” said Toni Pratt-Reid, president of the Association of Oklahoma Nurse Practitioners (AONP). “Nurse practitioners, who have masters or doctorate degrees, have the education and training needed to do more to address the critical health care shortage in our state.”

According to the most recent Oklahoma Health Workforce Databook compiled by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, 64 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties are designated as primary care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). More than 58 percent of Oklahomans live in a primary care HPSA. The state ranks 49th in physician-patient ratio.

Cynthia Sanford, a nurse practitioner who owns a pediatric clinic in McAlester, said, “This bill would allow me to expand my clinic. It’s going to allow us to expand access to health care in rural areas by employing more nurse practitioners.”

In addition, some nurse practitioners must also pay thousands of dollars a month for so-called collaborative agreements with physicians, even though the physician may not see a nurse practitioner’s patients or review their charts.

Nurse practitioners working in 22 states and the District of Columbia, and in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country, all have full practice authority.

“Studies have shown that patients who see a nurse practitioner have health outcomes as good as those who see a physician. Studies also show that NPs are more likely to work in rural areas,” Pratt-Reid said. “Many of the states that rank highest in health rankings give nurse practitioners full practice authority, so we are pleased that the legislature is giving this issue serious consideration this year.”