State should let more providers treat patients

‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is an age-old adage that, despite its good intentions, many Californians no longer follow in ensuring their overall health and wellness.

By the millions, Californians also turn to a wide range of health care providers, including chiropractors, naturopaths, optometrists, audiologists, nurse-midwives, psychologists, acupuncturists and others besides traditional physicians.

Consumers should be able to choose the type of provider that works best for them. Patients are best served when they have access to a team of health care professionals who work together. That is why it is especially important, while our state and nation continue to implement the Affordable Care Act, that we ensure access to all providers.

The Affordable Care Act bans discrimination against whole classes of health care providers. The California Department of Managed Health Care and the California Department of Insurance regulate health care plans and insurers and enforce state laws that prohibit certain discriminatory acts.

However, health plans and insurance companies commonly limit the types of health care providers allowed to provide services.

For example, optometrists who can offer routine vision care are often prohibited from treating medical eye conditions, such as glaucoma, that are within their scope of practice. Evidence shows optometrists can reduce costs, improve quality and increase access to care. Yet traditional insurance contracting arrangements prevent optometrists from being utilized to their full potential.

Other providers are having similar experiences, such as nurse-midwives at birth centers who have been denied reimbursement for performing services that are supposed to be covered. In some instances, practitioners have been excluded altogether from health care networks, or insurers have imposed limitations on payment, diagnosis or treatment that are not applied to other providers.

That is why Assembly Bill 41 – which would put into California law the “non-discrimination” section of the Affordable Care Act – deserves to be passed by the Legislature in 2015. AB 41 would prohibit health insurers from preventing any health care professional from delivering services within their scope of practice.

As growing demands for services add stress to an already overburdened health care system, efficient use of numerous health care professions is essential to ensuring access and reining in costs.

In 2008, the Institutes of Medicine recommended that licensed health care providers who have the appropriate education, training and skills should be called upon to assist in providing primary care services to patients.

Eliminating provider discrimination will lower health care costs, improve quality, increase access and lessen the shortage of providers that will be magnified with the millions of newly insured. Anyone who supports those goals should support AB 41.

Ed Chau, a Democrat from Monterey Park, represents the 49th Assembly District. David Benevento is a Folsom-based chiropractor and former president of California Chiropractic Association.