NEW YORK NURSE: October 2010
by Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN
Mary Wakefield is administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, charged with improving access to healthcare services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.
The Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed into law in March, is a historic victory for the nursing profession and for the millions of patients that we care for each year. The law embodies the values rooted in our profession — it emphasizes prevention, a strategy nurses learn to value from their earliest days in nursing school. It invests in building the healthcare workforce, including advanced practice registered nurses, so that Americans have the opportunity to access quality health care, regardless of their financial status or geographic location. Equally important, it extends security to our patients, our neighbors, our children and even ourselves, by putting an end to the worst insurance practices that have kept health care out of reach ¬— often for the very people who need it the most.
President Obama has long emphasized a more prominent role for nurses, and implementing the Affordable Care Act effectively depends on our expanded role. When the President selected me — a nurse from North Dakota — as the administrator of a $7.5 billion healthcare agency, he recognized the expertise that the nursing profession could bring to health policy and reform. The same can be said of the administration’s decision to appoint Marilyn Tavenner, also a nurse, to the number two position in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
For decades, nurses have watched as gaps in access and quality have compromised our nation’s health and healthcare system. We’ve seen insurance companies refuse to pay for life-saving treatments, and we’ve seen patients with advanced chronic diseases that could have been prevented or controlled with screenings and regular check-ups. We’ve seen heartbreaking inequities in our healthcare system. President Obama saw these challenges too and was determined to address them as soon as he was sworn-into office.
The Affordable Care Act invests in what is working in the American healthcare system. It invests $1.5 billion in the National Health Service Corps program over five years, which builds on the $300 million investment in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Combined, these funds are expected to result in an increase of more than 12,000 additional NHSC clinicians including nurse practitioners, primary care physicians and physician assistants by 2016. The law also creates a new Prevention and Public Health Fund, designed to create the necessary infrastructure to prevent disease and manage conditions before they become severe.
In his speech to the American Nurses Association in June, President Obama described key provisions of the Affordable Care Act and emphasized that “we’re seeking to elevate and value the work that you do, because throughout our history, nurses have done more than provide care and comfort to those in need. Often with little power or sway on their own, nurses — mostly women, historically — have been a force of will and a sense of common decency, and paved the way towards better care and a more compassionate society — from Clara Barton’s treatment of wounded soldiers at Antietam, to the advocacy of Dorothea Dix on behalf of people with mental disabilities, to the countless nurses whose names we’ll never know.”
The ANA and its membership have seen this country through critical periods of transition in our healthcare system. The ANA was one of the only major healthcare organizations that supported the creation of Medicare from the beginning. Without Medicare, a program strengthened by the Affordable Care Act, where would our nation’s elders be? Nurses were essential to making Medicare a success and delivering care to millions of older Americans. Now, as we work to transform the American healthcare system through the Affordable Care Act, our profession’s role will only continue to grow in importance. Nurses are on the front lines of change, and, together, we will provide coverage to more Americans and improve the nation’s health.