The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission makes recommendations for APRNs


The value of nurses continues to be seen at the federal level. Paralleling the Administrations’ December report, that recognized the role registered nurses and advance practice registered nurses (APRNs) play in patient care, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), also made recommendations to show the value of nurses. At the most recent MedPAC meeting in January, the 17 commission members, including two nurses, unanimously voted to recommend that “The Congress should require APRNs and Physician Assistants (PAs) to bill the Medicare program directly, eliminating ‘incident to’ billing for services they provide.” The goal of this recommendation is to reduce costs in the Medicare program as well as improve Medicare’s data on who furnishes care to beneficiaries. Currently, APRNs and PAs are paid 85 percent of the rate that physicians receive under the physician fee schedule when they bill Medicare directly for the same services. Therefore, practices may be reimbursed less overall, but accurate data can be collected to show the value of nursing.

The second recommendation from the Commission reads that, “The Secretary [of Health and Human Services] should refine Medicare’s specialty designations for APRNs and PAs.” Medicare has limited information on the specialties of practice for these clinicians and therefore cannot target resources appropriately to areas of concern, such as primary care.

It is important to note that nothing in either of the recommendations would determine what services clinicians can perform, which is up to state statutes and the physicians with whom they practice. MedPAC can only make recommendations to Congress for consideration to changes to the Medicare system.

These recommendations closely parallel the Administration’s Reforming America’s Healthcare System Through Choice and Competition Report that endorses broader state and federal scope-of-practice (SOP) statutes for all health care providers, including APRNs, that allow them to practice to the top of their license and full skill set. The report also advises eliminating “collaborative practice” and supervision requirements which can impede access to care and limit the ability of providers to diagnose and treat myriad health care issues, especially in underserved populations and in rural areas where patients rely on APRNs for timely care and lifesaving treatment.

Individual states will have to determine SOP statutes, but if all APRNs who bill Medicare are designating their areas of practice as well as services provided, increased data will be available to better determine patient outcomes and highlight quality nursing services. Moreover, better data will be available for services provided by communities to allow for more informed choices at the local and state level.

ANA continues to participate in discussions regarding APRN SOP and has provided comment to MedPAC and the Administration on issues, such as expansion of telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries, that can affect nurses and the care they provide to patients across the country.


A new Congress hears a delayed State of the Union


After a postponement following the partial government shutdown, President Trump’s State of the Union address to the newly elected 116th Congress included outlining his vision to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by the end of the next decade and pledging $500 million over 10 years to fight childhood cancer, the leading disease-related cause of death in American children.

The President also touted recent declines in prescription drug prices and promised additional reductions, while maintaining that he supported coverage for pre-existing conditions. It is politically feasible that the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate could find common ground with the President on both the HIV/AIDS and childhood cancer efforts.

Lowering prescription drug prices is something both President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi listed as a priority when they gave their respective news conferences post-Election Day. However, lawmakers from both parties have spent years trying to address this issue, with limited success. It remains to be seen whether the Democratic House and Republican Senate can come together in collaboration with the White House to craft an effective piece of legislation in the face of what is likely to be intense lobbying from pharmaceutical companies and other health industry stakeholders.

In the official Democratic response former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and state representative Stacey Abrams called on leaders in Washington to tackle the ongoing issue of gun violence prevention and criticized Republican Attorneys General who have joined a Texas court case that would invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA). She urged elected officials to back efforts that would expand access and lower the cost of health care. Abrams also joined the President in pointing out that prescription drugs are too expensive for too many families, and that policy solutions are badly needed to address this.

While health care is unlikely to dominate the start of this Congress to the extent that it dominated the start of the previous Congress, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle still believe that voters sent them to Washington to take tangible steps toward improving the American health care system. Despite the challenges of divided government, the prominence of health policy in the SOTU and the Democratic rebuttal emphatically shows that your vote truly matters when it comes to policy decisions regarding the nation’s health care system.

Occupational licensure reform: 2019 and beyond


Janet Haebler MSN RN                                                                                                             

The 2018 midterm elections clearly got voters’ attention with reportedly the highest turnout since 1952 which ushered in a flood of new faces to state legislatures nationwide. More than 23 percent of state legislative seats will be filled by new policymakers, including record numbers of women. New governors were also elected in nineteen states. What might this mean for policies in 2019?

As different as the political and social landscape may be from state to state, commonalities exist. Stimulating the economy is a consistent priority. While many states boast they’ve experienced a recovery from the 2007-2008 recession, increasing revenues and limiting expenses is important for continued investment in business and workforce growth. Policymakers as well as employers face challenges in identifying what the workforce needs will be for the future and how to sustain growth, while simultaneously putting out fires regarding current needs. Healthcare is a prime example that has seen regional shortages, changes in practice delivery, and a widespread desire to increase diversity. As such, it seems logical that barriers and opportunities for entry into the workforce should be examined, a discussion which inevitably touches on the question of occupational licensure.

Currently one in four occupations in the US necessitates a license and requirements can vary significantly from state to state. One quarter of all licensed workers are in health care. The acceleration of licensure requirements in the past several decades has drawn criticism for creating unnecessary challenges to enter the job market while limiting mobility between states. Licensure has been justified by legislators and advocates as essential to protect the public from low quality services and/or potential health risks. But studies have been inconclusive that licensing has increased quality. Some have argued that licensure has not only created a barrier for certain populations to entering the workforce but has also limited competition and resulted in increased costs for the consumer.

A 2015 report entitled Occupational Licensing Framework for Policymakers from the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers and Departments of Labor and Treasury spurred a number of states to introduce legislation that would lessen barriers to entry caused by occupational licensing, find the least restrictive form of regulation, and continue to ensure the health and safety of the consumer. The report noted that current licensure rules impose burdens on workers, employers, and consumers, and “too often are inconsistent, inefficient, and arbitrary.”

Triggered by the 2015 report, the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration awarded funding to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in partnership with The Coun­cil of State Governments and National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, to launch a three-year project that would: 1) ensure that existing and new licens­ing requirements are not overly broad or burdensome and don’t create unnecessary barriers to labor market entry; and 2) im­prove portability for selected occupational licenses across state lines. The national partners are convening state policymakers and experts in the field of occupational licensing, producing research, including a report, and delivering technical assis­tance to states.

Supporters for de-regulation contend licensure growth can negatively influence wages and increase cost to the consumers. It is suggested that the cost to attain and maintain a license can be transferred to the consumer with higher charges for services. Licensure processing can lead to a delay in employability, while varying licensure requirements between states can restrict mobility across state borders.

Nursing is not an occupation that’s included in the current grant-funded research, but there are potential impacts for the profession as interest in occupational licensure reform increases. Nursing practice is still not well understood by the public. While the physical skills and tasks are recognized, the cognitive function is least appreciated. A lack of understanding of the intricacies of an occupation can lead to decisions with unintended consequences.

For example, removing licensure requirements or modifying licensure standards for other healthcare workers can influence nursing practice and care, as well as services delivered. We have seen state legislation to support military members transitioning to civilian life. Specific to nursing, veterans with healthcare experience are awarded credit in lieu of completion of a nursing education program for eligibility to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCELX). Removing the licensure requirement for nursing assistants, medication aides and/or similar healthcare workers has caused mixed reactions for the healthcare worker, the employer, and patients/consumers.

At the center of these discussions are state policymakers, who establish most occupational licensure requirements and for whom the goals of consumer protection and economic opportunity and growth are of interest. As with any proposed policy change, it’s critical to consider the potential unintended consequences. Regardless of your perspective, it’s in everyone’s best interest to actively join our elected officials in these conversations.

Preliminary findings of the grant project can be found here.