California will be expanding health coverage to millions next year under President Obama's Affordable Care Act but the state does not have enough doctors to see all those new patients.
In preparation for the doctor shortage, state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) wants to allow nurse practitioners, pharmacists and optometrists to treat patients' ailments in a way they are currently not allowed to do without a doctor's guidance. To do so, Hernandez, who is an optometrist, has proposed three bills, SB491, SB492 and SB493.
And this has doctors, looking to protect their role as sole gatekeepers to medical care, on the defense.
"The concern would be that they have adequate training and adequate experience for exactly the kind of patients they're seeing," Dr. Ruth Haskins of the California Medical Association, said to ABC. "And if they're not adequately trained, they might miss something."
But most nurse practitioners, optometrists and pharmacists agree that they have more training than they're allowed to use. Under Hernandez's proposal, nurse practitioners would even be able to set up their own practice.
The California Medical Association, which lobbies on behalf of doctors, says the bill would create two classes of care. Instead, the group believes the state should focus on building more medical schools, adding residency slots and expanding programs that help pay off student loans of doctors who work in low-income communities, the Associated Press reports.
As of Feb. 10, there have been 144 bills like Hernandez's -- called "scope-of-practice bills" -- proposed across 33 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Debra Bakerjian, a nurse practitioner, said a third of states already allow nurse practitioners full practice authority, including Colorado, Maine, New Mexico and Washington, AP reports.
Hernandez said California needs to follow suit to ensure health care access, especially for low-income communities, and to reduce delays.
"How is it that we're going to be requiring somebody to purchase health insurance, but yet they won't have access to a doctor?" Hernandez said to the Sacramento Bee. "This is what we need to address."