Removing Restrictions on Health Care Providers Would Help Americans in Rural Areas

By June 16, 2017Healthcare

The New York Times recently reported that high-income residents in some of the U.S.’s wealthiest cities can afford to receive care in luxurious hospitals that attract the best doctors. From gourmet-style meals to furniture that rivals Versailles, these hospitals are only within reach for celebrities like Beyoncé.

Meanwhile, in rural areas, accessing health care is a constant struggle for patients.

 This is due in part to the fact that the U.S. is facing a shortage of doctors. In 2013, the U.S. had fewer primary care physicians per capita than any other OECD country—even though our doctors are among the highest paid in the world.

Rural areas are most vulnerable to this shortage. In 2014, The Center for Disease Control reported rural areas face higher death rates of 830.5 people per 100,000 compared to 704.3 people per 100,000 in urban areas. Moreover, rural areas continue to bear the brunt of the opioid crisis, which takes 90 lives every day.

No doubt, these problems are exacerbated by the fact that only 10 percent of doctors live in rural areas, even though rural areas contain 20 percent of the population.

To address these issues, policymakers must increase the number of medical providers. Currently, many states, through what are called “scope-of-practice” laws, prohibit nurse practitioners and physician assistants from offering primary care to patients. By eliminating these restrictions, states can begin to drive up the supply of health care for patients in need.

Scope-of-practice laws are harmful, costly and don’t make us any safer. Studies show that nurse practitioners and physician assistants can administer primary care just as well as their MD peers. Another study by the Mercatus Center reveals that prohibiting physicians assistants from prescribing drugs raises costs by 11 percent, or $109 per Medicaid beneficiary.

Fortunately, to date, over 20 states have reformed their scope-of-practice laws so more providers can administer primary care. It’s a good thing, too, given that “the demand for nurse practitioners has never been higher,” according to American Association of Nurse Practitioners President Cindy Cooke:

“With the rise of full practice authority in 22 states and the District of Columbia, more patients than ever have direct access to high-quality nurse practitioner care in every setting–including the veterans’ health system,” Cooke recently told Forbes.

Under Obamacare, health care costs have skyrocketed, making access to quality care less available. Congress can help by repealing Obamacare, including its costly regulations. But states can and should play an important role by enacting reforms to increase the supply of health care providers. Reforming scope-of-practice laws is just one solution that would help give patients, especially in rural areas, lower prices and more access to the care they need.