SACRAMENTO -- Facing a doctor shortage in California, state lawmakers want to fill the gap by redefining who can provide healthcare in the Golden State.
As detailed in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, they are working on proposals that would allow physician assistants to treat more patients and nurse practitioners to set up independent practices. Pharmacists and optometrists could act as primary care providers, diagnosing and managing some chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and high-blood pressure.
The effort is being led by state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), an optometrist and chairman of the Senate Health Committee.
Currently, just 16 of California's 58 counties have the federal government's recommended supply of primary care physicians, with the Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley facing the worst shortages. In addition, nearly 30% of the state's doctors are nearing retirement age, the highest percentage in the nation, according to the Assn. of American Medical Colleges.
The effort faces stiff opposition from doctors, who say non-physicians should not exceed their training and that giving more authority and autonomy to nurse practitioners and others could jeopardize patient safety. It could also drive up costs, because those workers, who have less medical education and training, tend to order more tests and prescribe more antibiotics, they said.