A state Senate committee has approved a bill that would allow certified nurse practitioners to see patients and make healthcare decisions without permission and collaboration from a physician.

The Pennsylvania Senate Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure Committee approved Senate Bill 717 on Wednesday. For the nurse practitioner bill to become law, the bill would need to pass a full Senate vote and the House would need to approve the currently stalled sister bill, HB 765; only then would it be sent to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.

While the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners and the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania [HAP] have issued support for the bill, the Pennsylvania Medical Society [PAMED] has expressed distaste for the committee’s decision.

In a recent statement, PAMED President Dr. Scott Shapiro said he feels the nurse practitioner bill “devalues” healthcare teams:

By eliminating the collaborative ties that exist between nurse practitioners and physicians, SB 717 removes an important safeguard in patient care and fragments the health care team. …

Let’s not destroy team-based medical care and instead promote existing law that allows both physicians and nurse practitioners to exercise the full range of medical knowledge available at the moment it is needed.

Along with HB 765, SB 717 seeks to amend the act of May 22, 1951, (P.L.317, No.69), as reported by PublicSource earlier this month:

House Bill 765 and Senate Bill 717 would allow a certified nurse practitioner to order home health and hospice care, make physical therapy and dietician referrals, and “perform and sign initial assessment of methadone treatment evaluations,” among other abilities without mandatory collaboration with a physician. …

A recent study from the University of Texas found that patients who have nurse practitioners as their primary care provider require fewer hospital admissions. A similar study conducted by the University of Montana found that having nurse practitioners work with patients individually can reduce healthcare costs by as much as 29 percent.

The Senate Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure Committee approved SB 717 by a majority roll call vote of 12-1. The lone dissenter was Sen. John Gordner, a member of the Senate Republican leadership team who represents Columbia, Montour, Snyder, Northumberland and parts of Luzerne counties.

If signed into law, Pennsylvania would join 21 other states and Washington, D.C., that allow certified nurse practitioners to practice without physician oversight.

Reach Courtney Linder at clinder@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @CNL_13.

This fact-based local reporting drives impact and creates change. Help power that impact.

James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” PublicSource exists to help the Pittsburgh region face its realities and create opportunities for change. When we shine a light on inequity in our region, like the “completely unacceptable” conditions in low-income housing in McKeesport, things change. When we ask questions about policymakers’ decisions, like how Allegheny County is handling COVID-19 safety for its employees, things change. When we push for transparency on issues that affect the public, like in the use of facial recognition software by Pittsburgh police, things change.

It takes a lot of time, skill and resources to produce journalism like this. Our stories are always made available for free so that they can benefit the most people, regardless of ability to pay. But as an independent, nonprofit newsroom, we count on donations from our readers to support this crucial work. Can you make a contribution of any amount (or better yet, set up a recurring monthly gift) to help ensure we can continue to report on what matters and tell stories for a better Pittsburgh?