As we look at the state of health care in Florida, it’s time to accept a very blunt fact: we are facing an access crisis. Last year, the federal government designated 278 health professional shortage areas in the state, which affect nearly six million Floridians. This translates to just 21 percent of the health care access needs being met across these areas.
With a population of over 21 million, there are just over 15,000 primary care physicians in the state; roughly one for every 1,400 individuals. To make the situation even bleaker, there were 13.1 million Floridians living with at least one chronic illness as of 2017 and over 20 percent of the state’s population are seniors, who require increased medical care and services.
Florida’s shortage of primary care providers results in a rise in poor health outcomes for families and increased costs for uncontrolled chronic disease, emergency room visits and readmissions, or worse.
So how do we solve this problem? By removing outdated regulations and fixing licensure laws, which will expand the availability of high-quality primary care from Florida’s 30,000 plus nurse practitioners (NPs). For more than half a century, NPs have delivered high-quality care across primary, acute and long-term care settings, and they have long established themselves as the health providers of choice for millions of Americans.
NPs are a highly trained workforce that have completed at least six years of preparation; graduated from a nationally accredited master’s or doctoral degree program; completed advanced clinical training; and successfully passed a national certification exam. NPs can order and interpret diagnostic tests, make diagnoses, initiate and manage treatment plans, and, in all 50 states, they can prescribe medications.
Despite their overwhelming qualifications, NPs are currently barred from practicing independently in the state of Florida and must pay exorbitant fees – sometimes as high as $50,000 per year – to a physician in order to do the job they trained for: care for the patients who choose them as their primary care provider. Restrictive state laws limit the supply of primary care providers and result in higher costs, longer wait times and patients who have to drive much farther to receive care.
Nearly half of the states across our nation have eliminated these outdated regulations and none of them have looked back. In the states that have made the change, studies show that geographic access to care is significantly increased and the cost of care is reduced.
The Florida Legislature is currently considering legislation – HB 607 – enabling NPs to practice to the top of their license and training without having to obtain a permission slip to do so.
Florida is facing a health care crisis. As two individuals, one who was born in this great state and one who has called it home since 1965, we urge the Legislature to remove these outdated regulations and do what is right for the six million Floridians lacking access to care.
David Hebert is the CEO of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, the largest organization advocating on behalf of the over 270,000 nurse practitioners nationwide. Doreen Cassarino, DNP, FNP-BC, BC-ADM, FAANP, FNAP, serves as Region 11 Director for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and is an active nurse practitioner in Naples.