In March 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, enacting comprehensive health insurance reforms that will continue rolling out through 2014 and beyond. This has potential to be a catalyst for many changes throughout healthcare, including healthcare education. Dr. Kim Hudson-Gallogly, associate professor of nursing at the University of North Georgia, discusses how the act will affect nursing education.
How will the Affordable Care Act impact healthcare and nursing education, in particular?
We anticipate that the U.S. will need an additional 52,000 healthcare providers to care for the more than 30 million new patients who will enter the healthcare arena.
The bill is providing funds for both advanced practice and undergraduate registered nursing education. For advanced practice education this is excellent news. Many programs have increased student numbers in an effort to help meet the needs of the millions of new patients.
Since 2010, the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program at UNG has increased enrollment to ensure that the northeast Georgia region has sufficient primary care providers to care for the influx of new patients expected when all components of the Affordable Care Act are implemented.
What will be the biggest challenge in adjusting to these changes?
The biggest challenge is twofold; first is to ensure we have enough practitioners to care for the patients who will be entering the healthcare system. Once the Affordable Care Act is implemented in its entirety, there will be thousands of new patients in our region who will be seeking healthcare. Most states will not be prepared for the influx of patients who will be entering the system. Patients may have difficulty finding primary care providers, and as a result emergency room (ER)visits may swell, which may cause a temporary increase in healthcare costs, as ER visits are typically more costly.
Secondly, in an effort to ensure there are enough providers—medical doctors and nurse practitioners (NP)—healthcare plans must recognize and reimburse NPs as primary care providers. This is a mandate for the nation, not just a single state. Educational units must be prepared to increase enrollment to meet this demand. Finding faculty with doctoral degrees to lead this change is a challenge with capped salaries and retirements, and is a dilemma for all nursing education programs. UNG continues to remain competitive in this category with a very high rate of doctoral-level nursing education faculty.
What opportunities does this provide for nurses and nurse practitioners?
Currently, there are many professional-level organizations at both the national level and the state level working together to ensure that there will be sufficient providers to care for the influx of new patients. State and local legislators continue to work together to decrease the restrictions to practice for nurse practitioners. The restrictions that require immediate attention by our legislators include requiring third-party carriers (insurance companies) to recognize and reimburse NPs as primary care providers, which will allow patients more options for delivery of care. Another problem that needs revision is the collection of restrictions on practice, such as medical collaboration requirements, in which an NP is required to be overseen by a physician.