The California Senate approved a bill Thursday that would give nurse practitioners the right to treat patients without a doctor's oversight in certain circumstances.
SB 323 passed on a 25 to 5 vote, and now moves on to the Assembly.
Currently, nurse practitioners must have a doctor oversee their work. Under the bill, they would be allowed to treat, diagnose and prescribe medications without that oversight, so long as they were affiliated with a medical group. Those unaffiliated with a medical group would not be able to practice on their own.
The bill's author, Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), said SB 323 is meant to help ensure access to health care in the face of a looming provider shortage as millions more people get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The need will be especially acute in rural and inner city areas, he added.
"We need to make better use of the trained healthcare workforce we already have if we are ever going to meet demand, and nurse practitioners are some of the best trained people in that workforce,” Hernandez asserted in a statement.
In California, only 16 of 58 counties have the recommended ratio of physicians to residents, according to the senator.
SB 323 has garnered the support of the California Association of Nurse Practitioners, which considers it a step towards complete independence in the future. Nurse Practitioners have master’s, and in some cases doctorate, degrees.
The California Medical Association - which represents doctors - opposes the bill, arguing that it could undermine the team approach to health care.