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Providing the Nurses we Need to Address the Nursing Shortage and Improve Health Care for All Americans

NURSING AND HEALTH CARE QUALITY, ACCESS AND COST

Background

Nurses are central to consumers’ good health, especially within a changing health care system. They are positioned across the health care system to provide high quality health care, increase access to health care services, and keep costs down. Yet, as our population ages and requires more complex health care, we’re facing a shortage of nurses – 260,000 over the next 15 years.

The problem is not a lack of interest in nursing. Instead, a shortage of nursing faculty is forcing nursing schools across the country to turn away tens of thousands of qualified applicants each year – almost 50,000 in 2009 alone, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, due largely to a severe shortage of faculty to teach nursing students.

Meeting the demands of an aging population requiring more complex health care in non-hospital settings is even more difficult when combined with a shortage of primary care providers. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of 46,000 primary care physicians by 2025. 

Nurses with advanced skills and preparation can provide Americans access to high quality, cost-efficient care. Yet, the majority of practicing nurses (60 percent) enter the profession with an associate’s degree. This level of education, while an important contribution to the nursing workforce, does not create a strong pipeline for graduate level education. Simply put, Americans need more advanced practice nurses, those with graduate degrees.

Legislative and Regulatory Action

In order to ensure we have enough highly-skilled nurses to efficiently and effectively care for Americans, AARP is advocating for a number of policy changes.

Nursing Workforce in Health Care Reform: Any health care reform legislation should include a permanent, mandatory source of funding for nursing education to increase our nation’s capacity to graduate more nurses.  

Medicare Graduate Nursing Education: Medicare should support incentives to produce more highly skilled advanced practice registered nurses.  AARP supports H.R. 3185 and S. 1569 that would establish a Medicare Graduate Nurse Education (GNE) program.  An analysis by the Lewin Group found that such an approach could provide a 50 percent increase in the number of APRNs entering the workforce each year.

Appropriations: Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2011 should include a total increase of 15 percent.  The entire increase should be targeted to efforts to reduce the shortage of nurse faculty through increased scholarships, loan repayment, technology, and other proven mechanisms.

Other Nurse Workforce Programs: Enact legislation that emphasizes nurse faculty shortage solutions and increasing nursing education capacity through existing nursing workforce programs within the Departments of Labor, Veterans Affairs, and Defense.

Barriers: Remove the numerous federal legislative and regulatory barriers that prevent advanced practice registered nurses from fully using their skills to provide services within Federal health programs. 

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