Recently, I received an e-mail from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants saying that they granted their 100,000th physician assistant (PA-C) certification since our profession started, nearly 40 years ago.
Thirty years ago, the only other PAs that I knew were those with whom I trained when I took my first job on April 1, 1982. What a difference three decades makes!
This represents significant growth in the profession from our beginnings in 1967, to a time when today we see a migration from general practice to specialization, implementation of a significant and increasing array of diagnostics, smarter healthcare consumers, and transition of health records from paper to digital.
While PA numbers may seem small when compared to more than 950,000 physicians practicing in the U.S., PAs represent one of the fastest-growing healthcare professions and an increasingly important member of the healthcare team and a vital provider in the country’s clinical workforce. We are critical players in any healthcare scenario or national strategic plan related the delivery of primary care in America.
It is predicted that the nation will fall short of its need for primary-care physicians by 150,000 over the next two decades given the current levels of medical school admissions. The Affordable Care Act will work to alleviate that problem with funding for training physicians and PAs, at the same time it adds to the problem by extending coverage to approximately 30 million more Americans. Medical schools across the country are expanding their physician and PA class sizes to address this demand. More will need to be done to care for all Americans.
When President Obama begins his second term in January, he will face a monumental task addressing the budget, energy, foreign affairs, and healthcare matters he’s facing. I don’t envy our president, and wish him all the best in trying to meet these challenges
Yet, there are policies before Congress right now that could allow PAs to practice to the fullest extent of their education and licensure. Hopefully they are not lost to inaction during a lame duck session.
In the coming Congressional session, their policy priorities are likely focused on preventing sequestration — mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to affect all federal programs beginning January 2, 2013 — and continuing implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The American Academy of Physician Assistants is putting a priority on emphasizing protection of public health programs that could receive the largest cuts, a minimum of 7.8 percent, if sequestration happens. Many of these programs, like the Public Health Service Act’s Title VII Health Professions Training grants, are nominal in cost and provide significant help to PA students and PA programs, as well as help to ensure access to quality healthcare for all Americans.
In addition to advocating to protect funding for health programs, PAs are advocating for two other pieces of legislation that would update practice freedoms so that PAs can be able to treat more patients: the PA Hospice bill and legislation to enable PAs to treat federal workers injured on the job.
Regardless about how you feel about healthcare reform, the need to change the current system remains the same, and additional reforms are needed to make the system as fair and efficient as possible. As we take a look at four final years of the Obama Administration, and regardless about how you feel about the ACA, increasing the number of direct providers of healthcare, like physicians and PAs, is a critical component to any solution to reforming healthcare.
This blog was provided in partnership with the American Academy of Physician Assistants.