NJ Lawmakers: Giving Seniors Affordable Health Care Options | Opinion

We all understand the importance of quality, affordable healthcare. But what good is it if you can’t access that care when and where you need it?

Unfortunately, right now our state’s outdated laws deny New Jersey citizens full access to trained health care professionals close to home. New Jersey ties the hands of nurses, limiting their ability to practice to the max of their education and training.

That’s why AARP New Jersey is fighting to improve access to affordable health care by cutting the red tape that keeps registered nurse practitioners — and all advanced practice registered nurses — from doing their jobs.

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have a master’s or doctoral level education that prepares them to provide advanced health care services, including primary and preventive care. In a recent poll of New Jersey voters ages 50 and older, 83 percent of respondents across all party lines supported modernizing outdated rules to allow nurses, who have advanced training, to serve as primary or acute care providers for patients.

New Jersey needs more health care workers, but right now nurses can’t practice to the peak of their training. This limitation has real implications for our health; contributes to limited primary care options, delays in care, and limited opportunities to receive health care in the home and community settings, particularly for those living in rural or underserved communities.

There is legislation (S1522/A2286) currently under consideration by the NJ Legislature that will modernize state law to eliminate the unnecessary bureaucracy that requires nurses to sign contracts with physicians to maximize their education and training.

Twenty-six other states and the District of Columbia have already revised these outdated health standards. Additionally, we have had the unique opportunity to see this policy in action over the past two years in our state.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of health care workers, Governor Murphy signed an executive order temporarily ending the joint protocol practice. It means that for the last couple of years, nurses have been at the forefront of saving lives without these contracts. And it worked. As S1522 states, there have been no reported adverse incidents involving advanced practice nurses practicing without restrictions.

The shortage of primary care physicians in New Jersey is projected to double from 2013 to 2025. By 2025, the projected shortage will reach more than 14%. This shortage means less access to care, lower quality of care and longer waiting times for patients. However, we continue to overlook and underutilize a valuable local source of quality care.

Doctor shortages and delays in care hurt all patients and make it especially difficult for older residents and people with physical disabilities to age on site. New Jerseyers want to live independently as they get older and need access to routine care in a variety of settings so they can stay home.

Delays in care also add stress to family caregivers. New Jersey is home to more than 1 million family caregivers who provide approximately $13 billion in unpaid care annually. Too often family caregivers bear the brunt of providing and supervising the care of a loved one. Without adequate access to affordable quality healthcare, healthcare professionals, patients and their family members have to travel further and wait longer to receive medical care.

AARP New Jersey believes that patients should be able to access health care from qualified health care professionals of their choice, including nurse practitioners, when and where they need it.

Modernizing these outdated rules will enable nurses to help keep our loved ones at home and out of expensive taxpayer-funded nursing homes. The time has come for New Jersey citizens to have direct access to the full range of skills these professionals can provide.

AARP Urges NJ Legislature To Uphold S1522/A2286 So Patients And Caregivers Can Easily Access The Vital Health Services They Need And Nurses Can Have Full Authority To Do The Jobs They Were Trained For .

Crystal McDonald is the Associate Director of State Attorneys at AARP NJ.

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