Support growing for nurse practitioner bill after passing first committee

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that seeks to allow nurses to practice to the top of their education and training made it out of its first committee.

Along with several updates to state code regarding the definition and licencing of nurses, the “full practice authority” legislation seeks to expand health coverage by allowing advanced practice registered nurses to evaluate, diagnose, treat patients under the exclusive licensure authority of the state board of nursing.

Beth Baldwin, President of the WV Nurses Association said on Wednesday’s “Talkline” that while it wouldn’t serve as a cure-all to the state’s deficiency in primary care availability, it would certainly help by lifting what she describes as unnecessary restrictions.

“We do not want to be physicians, we are not trained to be physicians,” she said. “We actually are trained to practice to the full extent of our nursing training and we only want to provide care that we are able to do. That is only a small piece of the pie.”

Bi-partisan support for H.B. 4334 has been driven by the hope that allowing nurses to use the full extent of their training will provide rural areas of the state where a primary care physician may not be readily available with health care.

Baldwin cites a study conducted in Arizona after its legislature passed a full practice authority bill.

“The most rural area increased their primary care access by over 70 percent in those areas,” she said. “It has been shown and proven in research that we would go out into the rural areas and provide care.”

The bill has been met with criticism this session similar to those from last year when the legislation fizzled out.

With prescription drug abuse prevalent in the state, some fear the practice of “doctor shopping” for pain pills could turn into “nurse shopping” if APRNs were given that authority.

However, Baldwin says there is no significant evidence of that being the case.

“States that allow APRNs to actually prescribe those kind of medications are less diversion, less drug overdoses. It does not correlate that more prescribers actually have more diversion drug overdoses.”

Other criticisms are being lodged by physicians who believe nurses may not be able to provide the same level of care they do.

Senator Tom Takubo (R-Kanawha), who is also a medical doctor, shared his concerns during last year’s debate over the bill stating “Eight years of intense medical training versus six months, the guy with eight years of intensive training is going to be far better suited, prepared, experienced than (the person with) six months.”

However, Baldwin again counters that APRNs are not trying to be physicians and that their training and education for an APRN extends far past six months.

“We have a BSN degree, which is a four-year degree, and then we are all required to get master’s degrees above that, which is three years beyond your BSN degree.”

Among those supporting the legislation include the AARP, which says empowering those 300,000 family caregivers in the state by increasing access to care is a top priority.

They also believe there is a financial benefit to full practice authority.

“This is going to save taxpayer dollars,” said Gaylene Miller, a spokesperson for the organization. “It’s estimated that states that implement full-practice for nurse practitioners save anywhere from 4.2 to 8.4 billion dollars over a decade.”

With the current state of health being what it is in West Virginia, Baldwin believes its time to look at options that have worked elsewhere.

“It’s passed in 21 states, plus D.C., those states none of them have repealed this legislation,” she said. “It has increased access to care, especially in most rural areas. Our state is one of the most unhealthy states and we need to have more care out there.”

After passing through the House Health Committee Tuesday┬ánight, the day before Nurses’ Day at the Capitol, H.B. 4334 moves to Government Organization.

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