New legislation addresses Massachusetts primary care crisis



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Massachusetts has taken an important step towards addressing its primary care provider shortage. Recently passed legislation (Chapter 305), championed by Senate President Therese Murray, addresses issues of access, quality and transparency in health care. The recognition of nurse practitioners as primary care providers is vital to this legislation and will immediately and dramatically increase the number of providers available to residents.

As Massachusetts ensures health insurance coverage for all its citizens, legislators are examining ways to increase access in the face of a primary care physician shortage. More than 300,000 citizens, previously uninsured, are now enrolled in Commonwealth Care and are seeking primary care homes. In a recent report, the Massachusetts Medical Society stated that patients wait an average of 8-12 weeks for a primary care appointment. Many physicians are not accepting any new patients at all.

Nancy O’Rourke, president of the Massachusetts Coalition of Nurse Practitioners said, “Nurse practitioners are highly educated professionals who are trained to provide primary care. We can diagnose, treat and prescribe medications in all 50 states. Over the past 30 years, studies show that care provided by nurse practitioners is equal to care provided by primary care physicians.”

For the first time, all health insurers in Massachusetts are required by law to recognize nurse practitioners as primary care providers, allowing consumers to choose them to coordinate and direct their care. The Massachusetts Medical Society recently reported that more than half of all patients presenting to a primary care practice who see a nurse practitioner make a deliberate choice to do so.

“Patients recognize that nurse practitioners provide high-quality, patient-centered care,” said O’Rourke. “Nurse practitioners have the training and expertise to provide care and manage chronic disease, making them a perfect solution to the shortage of primary care providers in Massachusetts, and nationwide.”

Massachusetts joins 24 other states that recognize nurse practitioners as primary care providers. Also included in this legislation is a section which grants tuition remission for physicians and nurse practitioners who choose a career in primary care. This creates a strong incentive for graduates of medical school and nurse practitioner programs to join the primary care workforce. “Chapter 305 is a comprehensive legislative vehicle to increase access to primary care at a time when Massachusetts is in dire need of more providers,” said O’Rourke.

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