Politics

As a shortage of primary care physicians looms across the nation and Kentucky, state lawmakers are considering whether to expand the role of physician assistants by allowing them to prescribe controlled substances.

Kentucky is the only state that doesn’t allow physician assistants to prescribe controlled substances, though it allows nurse practitioners to do so.

Christie Hall with the Kentucky Academy of Physician Assistants said the legislation would help resolve a shortage of healthcare providers in Kentucky.

“Expanded PA prescriptive authority will allow our physician-PA teams to better serve the needs of their patients in a more efficient manner,” Hall said.

Much like doctors, physician assistants diagnose and treat patients, but they only have to complete a two year master’s program and are required to be supervised by a physician in the area.

Currently, physician assistants are only allowed to prescribe drugs that aren’t on the list of substances that the federal government deems to have a risk of abuse.

The legislature passed a law to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled substances in 2014.

Nicholasville Rep. Tom Buford and Gravel Switch Rep. Daniel Elliott, both Republicans, have proposed bills that would expand the prescriptive authority of physician assistants. But other lawmakers are skeptical of the idea as opiate addiction to prescription drugs and heroin continues to ravage the state.

“Is it really necessary that a PA be able to prescribe methadone, opium, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, Percocet, oxycodone,” Louisville Republican Rep. Jerry Miller asked during the hearing.

“We all need to think, at least I need to think about expanding prescriptive authority when we have a historical crisis going on in Kentucky with pharmaceutical and street-based opiate products,” said Union Republican Rep. John Schickel.

The U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration has recommended expanding the roles of physician assistants and nurse practitioners to help alleviate a shortage of primary care physicians in coming years.

According to the study, the country will be short about 20,400 primary care physicians if the current system for delivering primary care remains the same.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.