CareFirst Insurer Expands Role of Nurse Practitioners, IOM Recommends Same
Last week, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, an insurer in Baltimore, Maryland, announced that it would enable nurse practitioners to serve as primary-care providers in Maryland, Northern Virginia, and the D.C. area. In response to both the physician shortage, which is expected to take a turn for the worse in the coming years, and to the health care reform law, which will produce an huge spike in insured patients by 2014, CareFirst made the decision to grant more authority to nurse practitioners.
As quoted in a recent FierceHealthCare article, CareFirst Senior Vice President for Networks Management Bruce Edwards noted:
"With these developments ahead and an existing need to expand access to these services, allowing nurse practitioners to practice independently as primary-care providers is a logical move to serve our members better."
The CareFirst decision to recognize nurse practitioners as primary-care providers, meaning patients will no longer have to see physicians before receiving care, was made in tandem with Maryland Coalition of Nurse Practitioners (MCNP) and the Nurse Practitioner Association of Maryland.
In related news, the Institute of Medicine released a report earlier this month, entitled "The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health", which recommended the expansion of nurses' roles as well. The report urged both federal and state governments to ease regulations that impede nurses to practice to the full extent of their educational capabilities.
Although many physicians were critical of the report, claiming that a physician's education and field experience cannot be equated to that of nurses', the IOM panel argued that its recommendations were not meant to be divisive.
Reporting on the IOM's recommendations, an American Medical News article quoted Dr. Donna Shalala, who headed the panel that collaborated on the report. Shalala asserted that "This is not about one profession substituting for another...This is about a collaborative effort among those who represent medicine in this country to make it better and to improve outcomes for every patient and every American family."
Another key component of the IOM's report is expanding nursing education so that nurses will be able to meet the demand of newly insured patients with a knowledgeable skill set. It went on to propose that nursing education be better integrated with physician training such that nurses will be better prepared for more collaborative roles as care providers. The report furthermore underscored the need for encouraging nurses to pursue doctoral degrees.