Legislator, citing rural doctor shortages, files bill to give physician assistants authority to prescribe controlled substances

A Republican recently elected to the state House has filed legislation that would allow physician assistants to prescribe controlled substances, something they can do in every other state beginning in January.

State Rep. Daniel Elliott

Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Gravel Switch, says the bill would help relieve the doctor shortages in some rural areas of the state. “If we can give these professionals the ability to care for sick people then I can’t see why we wouldn’t do that in a state that tends to be at the bottom of some categories of health,” Elliott told Insider Louisville‘s Joe Sonka. “I don’t see the rationale in prohibiting very well educated and trained medical professionals from practicing medicine, and that’s what we’re saying they can’t do in Kentucky, to a certain extent.”

Physician assistants have two-year master’s degrees and are supervised by physicians. Kentucky has more than 1,200 of them. They have less prescribing authority in Kentucky than nurse practitioners, who have been able to prescribe controlled substances since 2006. Florida was the last state to extend the authority to physician assistants, effective in January.

“Ben Swartz, the executive director for the Kentucky Academy of Physician Assistants, tells IL that this difference makes it harder to hire physician assistants, and changing the law would ‘bring parity in line with the two professions’ and ‘level the job market’ in Kentucky,” Sonka reports. “He adds that because Kentucky lags behind the rest of the country on this law, physician assistants in Kentucky often leave to find work in other states where they have full prescription authority, even though their training is more thorough than that of nurse practitioners.”

Swartz acknowledges that the General Assembly has been reluctant to give PAs prescription authority “due to the state’s problem of prescription painkillers being over-prescribed and leading to opioid addiction and overdoses,” Sonka writes. “However, he says this change would provide more accurate and responsible tracking of prescriptions by the state, as the supervising physicians’ prescriptions are often inflated when their assistant refers patients to them.”

Elliott won a special election in March to fill the seat vacated by state Auditor Mike Harmon. Republicans are in the minority in the House but appear to have a good chance of winning a majority in the Nov. 8 elections.

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