Creating more positive legal, regulatory and employment environments for physician assistants (PAs), a stronger PA brand and voice, and improving member satisfaction are among the top goals of the American Academy of Physician Assistants this year, high-level members of the organization said in opening remarks at IMPACT 2013.

“I suggest you buckle your seatbelts. Healthcare is changing in so many ways and we are in for the ride of our lives,” AAPA President Elect Lawrence Herman, PA-C, MPA, said during the opening session of the House of Delegates. “I urge you not to hold on too tight or close your eyes. You should be able to hear, see and feel the changes, despite the fact that they are coming so fast.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (ACA), along with both government and market forces are driving efforts to repair a broken U.S. healthcare system “faster than anyone anticipated or was prepared for,” according to Herman.

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The good news is that PAs are better poised than ever before to play integral roles in this process. Each year more than 6,500 PAs graduate from more than 173 PA-educational programs, and were named one of three recommended primary care providers under the ACA, along with nurse practitioners and family physicians. 

Significant progress at both state and federal regulatory levels has occurred during the past year, with 40 U.S. states enacting PA-positive changes to state laws. Another 20 states currently have PA-positive legal improvements underway.

Advances in the last 12 months have included expanding PAs prescriptive authority; authorizing PAs to supervise medical assistants, utilize fluoroscopy and laser technology; and enabling PAs to play more prominent roles in end-of-life care.

At the federal level, PAs have been explicitly included in a program to enhance reimbursement for treating Medicaid beneficiaries, have been granted the ability to order portable X-rays under Medicare, and have gained more flexible physician supervision requirements in rural health clinics and other medical facilities.

Additionally, draft regulations to allow PAs to assess, diagnose and admit patients into opioid treatment programs under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are under review.

Despite these advances more efforts are needed to quantify the value of PAs, so they can become healthcare providers that “employers will want to hire and patients will request to see,” said AAPA Executive Vice President and CEO Jennifer Dorn.

In order to accomplish this goal, the AAPA is forging alliances with influential national groups, including American Diabetes Association and the Institutes of Medicine, to undertake several pilot programs to demonstrate the value of physician assistants in healthcare teams.

“Now is the time for PAs to speak with one voice,” AAPA President James E. Delaney, PA-C, said during the session. “Let’s work together to make sure we stay committed to team-based patient-centered medicine.”

President-Elect Herman encouraged PAs to “think globally, but act locally,” by speaking with state congressmen, becoming more involved in local media coverage of PA events, visiting local high schools to get students interested in PA programs, and becoming more involved in precepting and mentoring the next generation of PAs.

“Opportunity is knocking,” Herman said. “Will you open the door?”