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Nurses Intent on Being Part of Debate

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Nurses march in Upper Senate Park last week during a national day of action. Nurses say they can help bring health care costs under control by playing a more prominent role in the health care system.

Last week, hundreds of nurses rallied on Capitol Hill, carrying signs and calling for health care reform legislation. The California Nurses Association-National Nurses Organizing Committee and other nursing unions want lawmakers to pass legislation that would bring all Americans into a single-payer government system.

Not all groups that represent nurses have taken such a dramatic approach — nor do they all agree that a single-payer system is a key goal of reform legislation.

But as health care is poised for center stage in the coming months, nurses clearly want to be part of the action.

Nurse lobbying groups want a more prominent role for their members in the health care system, arguing that nurses can help reduce costs and, according to some clinical studies, even make for better patient outcomes, especially when treating chronic ailments. But the different organizations sometimes find themselves at odds with one another and with doctor groups.

One health care lobbyist said nurses’ groups disagree with one another at their own peril.

“When you’re on the Hill, and things are moving fast, there just isn’t time for Members to figure out all the differences,” this lobbyist said. “You don’t want to divide and conquer.”

But the nurses are also teaming up with new allies as part of coalitions.

“We’re in these broad-based coalitions that we have not played with before,” said Pat Ford-Roegner, CEO of the American Academy of Nursing, pointing to insurance companies, medical device groups like AdvaMed and the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “We want to make sure this is the time we have health reform.”

Michelle Artz, a top lobbyist for the American Nurses Association, said the organization wants to make sure nurses are well- represented in health care reform.

“We want to make sure this isn’t a physician-centric dialogue,” she said.

The ANA is not actively lobbying for a single-payer model when it comes to health care reform.

“In our ideal world,” Artz said, “a single-payer system is the way to go. However, we really recognize that’s not where the dialogue is now. We’ve been really trying to focus our efforts on the pieces that are moving. We just feel the realities of how this is unfolding right now are taking a different path, and we want to make sure that nurses are on that path, recognized and heard.”

One bill that the ANA is getting behind is the Preserving Patient Access to Primary Care Act (H.R. 2350), which Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) introduced late last week.

The bill considers nurse practitioners and nurse midwives as primary care providers.

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