Most healthcare professionals agree there is a need to make quality care more accessible to a larger portion of society. Many believe it’s the United States government’s responsibility to help find a solution to curb the costs and increase the quality of healthcare in America.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one such effort. Though it’s still evolving and facing significant opposition, it has helped reshape a national conversation surrounding healthcare while removing barriers to access for those previously uninsured. Although healthcare law is always evolving, the ACA has shifted the landscape and provided new regulations, provisions, and elements that healthcare professionals need to understand.
In many instances, these changes will mean increased opportunity for nursing professionals. If you work in healthcare — or aspire to — this type of legislation can affect you and your colleagues in different ways. Let’s look at some of the ways the Affordable Care Act is having an impact on nurses.
Nurse practitioners are more important than ever
As millions of people gain access to health insurance through the ACA, the flood of new patients seeking care has amplified a decades-old nursing shortage. This is alongside a study conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which shows that the continuing shortage of physicians is expected to reach as high as 139,000 by 2033. These factors mean nurses are being tasked with caring for a larger number of patients per shift and often spending more time with each patient.
Because of this trend, many in-office or telehealth visits are now conducted by nurse practitioners, who have the expertise and autonomy to clinically diagnose and prescribe treatment in much the same way that a physician does. Due to a lack of consistent medical care, many of the new ACA enrollees enter the medical system with chronic, untreated conditions and/or little understanding of medical processes and treatments, so the knowledge a nurse practitioner brings can often be a matter of life or death for the patient.
Emergency room visits have increased
While many hoped that additional access to health insurance would result in fewer visits to the emergency room, the opposite is true. With insurance now more accessible, more people are seeking help through the ER, clogging waiting rooms and keeping doctors and nurses busy. The same holds true for urgent care facilities.
Outpatient treatment centers are on the rise
In an attempt to cut medical costs, ACA recipients are being directed to outpatient centers in their communities, which creates more jobs for nurses in those areas. This serves a two-fold purpose. Not only does it enhance the healthcare experience through racial, ethnic, religious, and gender diversity, but it also frees up more room in hospitals for patients with urgent or acute medical needs.
Many nurses act as ACA advocates
It’s no surprise that the American Nurses Association (ANA) has long been an advocate for healthcare reform, citing the benefits of access to care, consumer protections, cost controls, and improved health through preventive services.
Being on the front lines of healthcare delivery — especially during COVID-19 — nurses can play a role in encouraging patients to seek information on insurance coverage through the ACA.
This is particularly true for nurses working in facilities that handle a large population of uninsured and underinsured individuals. Patients tend to trust their nurses and nurse practitioners (NPs) for unbiased opinions and support.
The White House, Department of Health and Human Services, and Small Business Administration each offer a number of publications and materials to help nurses educate their patients about healthcare plans. Part of the Affordable Care Act’s impact on nurses is that they can serve as trusted, unbiased advisors to patients, allowing them to feel at ease regarding their healthcare options.
Healthcare reform creates opportunities for nurses
One of the primary opportunities to emerge for nurses is the demand for nurse practitioners to serve a growing — and, in some cases, newly insured — patient population. NPs fill an important need in communities where there is a shortage of family medicine physicians.
Many RNs are now pursuing nurse practitioner degrees to take advantage of this trend, for both the health of their careers and the well-being of local residents. Many patients prefer to see an NP because of their focus on whole-person care, which encourages appropriate medical decisions and better lifestyle choices.
These advanced professionals can also educate and speak to how the Affordable Care Act impacts nurses, patients, and the medical community at large.
If you’re a current or aspiring nurse, it’s important to be aware of the expanding role of nurses in healthcare. As of 2019, 28 states and the District of Columbia allowed nurse practitioners to treat patients independently from physicians. This number is expected to increase in the near future as more states review their scope of practice laws for NPs in response to the growing need for primary care providers.
Enhance your career with a nurse practitioner degree
Due to the growing demand for nurse practitioners, RNs across the nation are pursuing online nurse practitioner degrees to help them prepare to advance their healthcare careers.
If you’re ready to begin your nursing career, or want to enhance your skills to grow in your role as a nurse, learn how Maryville University’s online nursing degree programs can help you learn the skills needed to become a successful nurse practitioner.
All Nursing Schools, ‘How the Affordable Care Act Has Impacted Nursing”
National Health Care Provider Solutions (NHCPS), “How the ACA Affects Nurses”
American Journal of Nursing, “Nurses and the Affordable Care Act”
Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), “U.S. physician shortage growing”
Becker’s Hospital Review, “28 states with full practice authority for NPs”