HEALTH CARE: Bills would expand powers of optometrists, pharmacists and nurse practitioners

April 29, 2013

The Press-Enterprise

By Jim Miller

SACRAMENTO — Legislation that would let optometrists, pharmacists and nurse practitioners perform medical tasks that now are the domain of doctors passed its first committee.

The measures considered Monday, April 29, are the most far-reaching of several bills pending in the Legislature this year that pit different groups of health care professionals against each other in scope-of-practice fights.

Supporters of Monday’s legislation said it would help improve a lack of primary care providers in Inland Southern California and other parts of the state. The problem will worsen as the federal Affordable Care Act adds millions of people to the health-insurance rolls, they say.

The bills would allow optometrists, pharmacists and nurse practitioners to make diagnoses, prescribe drug treatments and perform some medical procedures, tasks that currently require a physician.

But opponents, led by physician groups, said the proposals would put patients at risk and that there was no evidence the legislation would increase the number of health care professionals in areas with the greatest need.

The California Medical Association and other physician organizations have said a better approach is to target more physicians at underserved areas through such efforts as loan-forgiveness programs and by opening UC Riverside’s school of medicine.

Backers of Monday’s bills said those endeavors cost a lot of money — the school of medicine alone requires $15 million from the state annually — and also will not meet the need soon enough.

“Capacity and lack of access … it’s an issue that we have to address,” said state Sen. Curren Price, D-Inglewood, the chairman of the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development, before the vote on one of the bills.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-La Puente, the legislation’s author, said other states that have adopted similar laws have seen an improvement in people’s access to health care.

Hernandez’s measures, Senate Bills 491, 492, and 493, go next to the Senate Appropriation Committee.