St. Louis Post-Dispatch | July 14, 2013
Supporting the theme parks and attractions in the tourism hub of Branson, Mo., are thousands of hourly workers manning the ticket counters, cleaning hotel rooms and waiting on tables.
These residents, living among the Ozark Mountains in Taney and Stone counties, often lack health insurance. Three years ago, a group of volunteers opened a clinic in a donated building with donated medical equipment to care for them.
“It was just a matter of us saying we wanted to provide this for our community because we thought it was the right thing to do,” said Rick Tallon, who volunteers as a dentist at the clinic.
But for the past two months, the Faith Community Health clinic has been idle. Trying to provide care with busy physician volunteers has been unreliable and sporadic, Tallon said. “We have 500-plus patients on the waiting list.”
A new Missouri law providing more freedom for physician assistants to care for patients could change that. Advocates hope the change will alleviate the shortage of primary care doctors in Branson and across the state — a shortage expected to worsen as the Affordable Care Act expands health care benefits to millions more Americans.
Currently, physician assistants must be supervised by a doctor located within 30 miles of where they practice, and a doctor must be present 66 percent of the time they are caring for patients — the second-most restrictive state law in the country.
That will change Aug. 28 when the supervising doctor will be allowed to be up to 50 miles away and will have to spend only half of a day on site for every 14 days the physician assistant practices.
Easing restrictions on physician assistants, who have more than two years of postgraduate study, is lauded as an affordable way to improve care for residents who are geographically isolated or see long waits at understaffed clinics.
“Allowing physician-PA teams to tailor medical care according to the needs of their patients and communities can only lead to better access to care in rural and underserved areas,” said Paul Winter, a physician assistant at Missouri Baptist Hospital and president of the Missouri Academy of Physician Assistants.