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Health Care

Florida Senate Bill Would Allow Non-Doctors To Prescribe "Controlled Substances"

Doug McIntosh/Flickr

Florida legislators this year may expand the prescribing authority of physician assistants and nurse practitioners to include controlled substances. The move responds to Florida's reported doctor shortage and its developing flood of patients with new Obamacare health policies.

It's not just a Florida problem. President John McGinnity of the American Academy of Physician Assistants says the U. S. supply of doctors is becoming problematic. 

"We've known for a long time that we have a shortage of physicians and we have a maldistribution of providers out there," McGinnity said.

Physician assistants and nurse practitioners don't have the same diplomas and licenses as physicians. But they have advanced medical training and they’re allowed to diagnose, treat and prescribe within limits and under the supervision of regular physicians. But they frequently encounter their legal limitations, said Corinne Mixon, a Tallahassee lobbyist for the Florida Academy of Physician Assistants.

"Let's say you're in a rural area," she suggests, "and a patient needs a medication and there's no doctor nearby to prescribe it."

And that's happening increasingly as the formerly uninsured find their way to healthcare policies under Obamacare. Mixon is lobbying for passage of a bill (SB 614) to allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners virtually the same prescribing authority as licensed physicians. The bill breaks no new ground. As a matter of fact, 48 other states already allow controlled substance prescribing authority for PAs.

"There's just one other state. It’s Kentucky," Mixon said.

The physician assistants and nurse practitioners are also hoping for eventual authority to bill Medicaid as official providers. If the Legislature expands Medicaid this year, a million new patients may have fewer problems finding someone to care for them.

This is an updated story.  An earlier version misstated the education and licensing requirements of physician assistants and nurse practitioners and misattributed a quote to John McGinnity.

WLRN is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.