Affordable Care Act—What will it mean for PAs?

When the US Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act on June 28, 2012, it ruled that most of the ACA’s provisions are constitutional and therefore may be implemented.

One provision is the extension of insurance coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans by 2014.  Insurance companies will want a healthier population, and to have a healthier population, more primary care providers will need to be hired—30,000 by 2015 according to the experts.

Where will all these primary care providers come from?  There is already a shortage of doctors, and few expect much increase in the number in the coming years.

To help fill this looming health care gap, the ACA includes another provision—a provision recognizing physician assistants as primary care providers.  And this is good news for the health care industry.

PAs can be trained in a shorter period of time compared to physicians.  Their education is less expensive.  What limits the speed of training doctors are the residencies they must complete and the cost of their education.  Also, all PAs are trained as generalists.  They are ready for front-line primary care.

The Affordable Care Act also creates a new Prevention and Public Health Fund that will be used to boost the supply of primary care providers.  $32 million from this fund will be used to support the development of more than 600 new physician assistants. 

Additionally, PA students will be eligible for increased financial support though the National Health Service Corp’s scholarship and loan repayment programs, while PA educators will be eligible for increased funding support through the Public Health Service Act’s Title VII Health Professions Program.

The ECU Department of Physician Assistant Studies has been educating students to become a strong primary care workforce since 1997.  As part of its mission, the PA program prepares physician assistant graduates to enhance the access to primary medical care for the citizens of rural and medically underserved eastern North Carolina and beyond.

Julie Daniel-Yount, MHS, PA-C
Clinical Assistant Professor

Clinical Education Coordinator