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How the Affordable Care Act is transforming the role of nurses

Jess Scherman By  Jess Scherman  |  @jescherman  | 

Obamacare-nursing

You've heard the buzz words Affordable Care Act, Obamacare and Healthcare Reform cycling their way through regular news stories and raving (or ranting) blog posts. Maybe you're all caught up on the details of the debate, or maybe you've begun to drown out the intermittent chatter. But if you're considering pursuing a career in nursing, there are some facts about the Affordable Care Act you should know.

It has been more than five years since President Obama signed the bill that brought healthcare coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. This influx of eligible patients has people wondering how healthcare providers are keeping up.  

Expanding the role of nurses is a key tactic in the successful implementation of Obamacare. But let's revisit the basics of the Affordable Care Act before delving into the impact it is having on the nursing community.  

Refresh: What you need to know about the Affordable Care Act

The act was signed into law on March 23, 2010, with the goal of adjusting the affordability, quality and availability of health insurance and, by extension, healthcare as a whole.  

Objectives of the bill include the following:

  • Ensuring access to health insurance and protection against unaffordable out-of-pocket costs        
  • Prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions or dropping people from coverage when they get sick       
  • Reforming the pharmaceutical industry to prevent monopolies and protect consumers  

These are a few among more than 400 provisions contained in the bill. To access more comprehensive coverage of these provisions, you can visit the Obamacare website.  

Redirect: What Obamacare means for nurses

More Americans gaining access to health coverage has had a direct effect on the future of healthcare—specifically when it comes to the seemingly inevitable shortage of primary care providers. In fact, we're projected to see a shortage of approximately 45,000 primary care physicians by 2020, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.  

Not all questions regarding the shortage have been answered, but one solution many healthcare professionals are clinging to is the idea of increasing the number of nurse practitioners.

Nurse practitioners are a type of advanced-practice registered nurses (APRN). These positions require at least a master's degree, while a doctorate is often preferred, and they earn a median annual salary of $96,460.* State laws vary on the scope of work nurse practitioners can perform, but one of the chief proposed solutions for the primary care shortage has been to expand their role so they can provide patients with a wider range of healthcare services.  

Primary care, as you may recall, is comprised of a broad range of medical services, including initial patient evaluations to ongoing care for chronic conditions, while also providing preventative care such as immunizations or screenings. Primary care services are typically provided by physicians, while there is a small range of non-physician practitioners who hold graduate degrees and are authorized to examine patients to this capacity.  

Despite some physician opposition, 18 states and Washington D.C. signed bills in 2014 that allow nurse practitioners to practice independent of physicians. Minnesota was among this group, implementing its bill in May of that year. As of January 1, 2015, nurse practitioners have been empowered to practice independently within the state.  

Hundreds of thousands of patients nationwide are benefitting from this increased access to healthcare.  

Other states are adapting to this shortage in slightly different ways. Kentucky, for example, now maintains that nurse practitioners who have completed a four-year "apprenticeship" with a physician are authorized to assume primary care independently. This model represents a certain compromise for states unwilling to allow APRNs complete autonomy.  

Reenergize: Join this evolving field

Americans consider nursing to be the most trustworthy and ethical profession, according to a 2014 Gallup poll. So it's no surprise that nurses are being called upon to help alleviate what many would consider a medical crisis.  

The past decade has been one of great transition in the world of healthcare—technology has ushered in wireless communication capabilities, the expansion of telehealth services has decreased patient mortality rates, a renewed focus on rural healthcare has ushered updated healthcare services to underserved communities and much more.  

While this primary care development may seem like a tiny speck of paint on a huge and colorful canvas, it speaks volumes for the world of nursing.  

The message being sent to nurses, and those looking to get into the field, is one of trust and confidence in their collective ability to improve the quality of care Americans receive. In fact, jobs for graduate-level nurses are even expected to grow at a rate of 31 percent through 2022, more than double the national average of 14 percent.  

If you've been wondering whether or not now is the right time to pursue a career in nursing or to go back to school to advance the current state of your nursing career, these statistics should serve as the motivation you need to take that first step. Be sure to keep your finger on the pulse of the nursing shortage by reading up on the most in-demand nursing specialties.

 
*Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.    

Jess Scherman


Jess is a higher education content creator who writes on behalf of The College of St. Scholastica. She researches and writes content to help current and prospective students on their path to educational success. As a published poet with a passion for the transformative nature of higher education, she loves discovering new ways to use her writing as a tool to help others.

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