KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Increased Focus On Role Of Nurses In Health Care

CNN reports that specialist nurses last year were paid higher average salaries than primary care doctors. "Primary care doctors were offered an average base salary of $173,000 in 2009 compared to an average base salary of $189,000 offered to certified nurse anesthetists, or CRNAs, according to the latest numbers from Merritt Hawkins & Associates, a physician recruiting and consulting firm." While this trend leads some to worry that it will only exacerbate the shortage of primary care doctors, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) continues to say they are being fairly compensated for the work that they do (Kavilanz, 3/11).

USA Today: A bill under consideration in Kentucky would give nurse practitioners more independence and allow them to prescribe certain medications without a signed agreement from a physician and other routine medical tasks. Already in Kentucky, the approximately 3,700 nurse practitioners in the state "are able to practice independently without being supervised by a physician. But in order to prescribe medicine they must obtain a signed agreement from a physician, even though that physician may not work directly with or consult with the nurse."

The Kentucky Medical Association is fighting the legislation, sharing the view of the American Medical Association, "which issued a report last fall critical of the training that nurse practitioners receive." Supporters of the bill say increased independence for nurse practitioners will help make up for the primary care doctor shortage, and Kentucky's bill would follow a national trend along those lines. According to the American Nurses Association: "Twelve states, including Alaska, New Mexico, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming, and the District of Columbia allow nurse practitioners to prescribe independently, including controlled substances … In 29 states, laws require physician collaboration for prescribing controlled substances" (Yetter/Halladay, 3/12).

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