On Jan. 15, the Senate Committee on Elections, Ethics & Rural Issues held a public hearing on the Collaboration and Rural Expansion of Services (CARES) Act (SB 515/AB 575), which would update Wisconsin statutes related to physician assistants (PAs). The bill seeks to reduce workforce barriers for PAs, thus maintaining and increasing access to high quality medical care, particularly in underserved rural areas of the state. Patient safety standards would remain unchanged.
The bill has bipartisan support from across the state, with lead authors Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie), Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) & Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Reps. Nancy VanderMeer (R-Tomah), James Edming (R-Glen Flora) & Dave Considine (D-Baraboo). Wisconsin Academy of Physician Assistants (WAPA) is advocating for the legislation to update their profession. Wisconsin Hospital Association also supports the legislation.
Over 2,700 PAs practice in Wisconsin, working with physicians to provide quality, cost effective team-based care to patients across the state. PAs practice in every area of medicine performing activities such as physical exams, diagnosing and treating illnesses, assisting in surgery, and prescribing medication.
The CARES Act would allow more flexibility at the practice site for physicians and PAs by changing the PA/physician relationship from “supervision” to “collaboration.” Collaboration would be required to take the form of either a written collaborative agreement between a PA and a physician or the PA would practice under the overall direction and management of a physician. (The bill would NOT create independent PA practice nor would it change PAs’ current scope of practice.) The bill also eliminates the one-to-four physician-to-PA ratio under current law. Additionally, the bill creates a PA Examining Board, giving PAs regulatory authority over their own profession. PAs are currently regulated by the Medical Examining Board.
At the hearing, PAs from across the state made the case for transitioning to collaboration and minimizing statutory barriers so that they can practice to the full potential of their education, experience and training. Several physicians also attested to the positive aspects of collaborative PA-physician relationships, stating they would add PAs to their practice if the CARES Act passes.
Some physician groups, including Wisconsin Medical Society and Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, oppose the bill, citing concerns about moving from a supervisory PA-physician relationship and potentially reducing patient safety. However, the CARES Act retains PAs’ current scope of practice, and numerous studies show PAs working together with physicians and remotely provide safe and effective care. Moreover,under the bill, the PA’s employer could impose whatever additional practice restrictions the employer deems appropriate.
For more information on the CARES Act, visit https://yourpacan.org/wisconsin/.