Bay Area Council Economic Institute

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — With more than 3.3 million more Californians now covered by the Affordable Health Care Act and Medi-Cal, granting full practice authority to nurse practitioners is “one of the most effective steps” California can take to increase the supply of primary care providers while maintaining high quality health care and driving down costs, according to a report released today by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

The study found the number of NPs in California has seen a dramatic rise in the past decade, more than doubling from 8,240 in 2004 to over 17,000 in 2008. Nurse practitioners now represent almost 6 percent of all nurses in the state, up from 2 percent in 1993.

The report, funded by AARP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, finds that $1.8 billion in health care cost savings could be achieved over the next 10 years, the number of nurse practitioners could increase by 24 percent, and patients in rural and underserved communities would be the major beneficiaries if California nurse practitioners were given the same practicing authorities as those in 17 other states and the District of Columbia.

“Giving nurse practitioners the ability to provide primary health care is the least expensive, most effective way to provide Californians with the health care they’re seeking,” said Micah Weinberg, PhD, of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. “California is the most populous state and has been a leader in the implementation of health reform, but the state ranks 23rd in the number of primary care physicians per resident. With the state’s covered population set to rise substantially, the supply of primary care providers will become strained even further unless we empower nurse practitioners to do the work they have been educated and licensed to do.”

“It’s clear from this report that allowing nurse practitioners to practice the health care they’ve been trained for is a key to making the Affordable Health Care Act work effectively in California,” says president of the California Association for Nurse Practitioners, Beth Haney. “It’s time the Legislature realize the cost savings, increase in access, and improvement in quality that will come from changing the law to remove the barriers to practice for nurse practitioners in California.”

The Bay Area Council’s analysis shows that over 4,000 additional NPs would be practicing in California today had practice restrictions been lifted in the state previously, representing a 24 percent increase in the number of NPs practicing throughout the state.

“Nurse practitioners also receive extensive patient-centric training, and patients of NPs report higher satisfaction with care received when compared to physicians. In years following increased NP authority, adults report a 13-15 percent increase in visit quality, while children report gains of 17-27 percent,” says the report.