Recent studies indicate that patients with an unmanageable amount of medical debt are less likely to seek treatment that they currently need than other patients are. Overwhelming medical bills are also currently the number one reason cited by consumers who opt to file for personal bankruptcy in the U.S. Bringing down medical costs is therefore critical to both stabilization of the economy and to ensuring that patients are empowered to seek necessary medical care.

However, physicians are currently resisting one widespread proposal that would cut patient costs substantially under certain circumstances. This cost-saving measure would allow nurse practitioners to treat certain patients directly without the oversight of a consulting physician. Opponents of this measure cite patient safety concerns as a major risk of its implementation. Advocates insist that physicians are simply concerned about their authority and pay scales taking a hit.

Both sides make good points. Nurse practitioners are not trained as extensively as physicians are and therefore may risk higher rates of medical malpractice in their treatment approaches. On the other hand, allowing experienced nurse practitioners to treat certain low-risk patients without physician oversight could lower costs and increase the number of patients willing to seek necessary care.

Under current law, 17 states have opted to grant greater treatment privileges to nurse practitioners. Evidence does not suggest that patient safety risks have spiked substantially in these states. However, it is possible that far more consideration should be given to studying the risks of both sides of this argument before even more states grant or explicitly fail to grant more extensive direct care privileges to nurse practitioners.

Source: Washington Post, “Wonkbook: Doctors for higher health-care costs!” Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas, Aug. 15, 2013