National Nurses Week and the Affordable Care Act

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May 4th, 2012

By , BSN, RN

“As we approach National Nurses Week, I’d like to acknowledge the very important work each and every nurse does to improve health and health care, whether through teaching the next generation of nurses; practicing in clinical or community settings; helping to build the evidence to address challenges facing patients; or, in an area that’s near and dear to me, informing public policy.” 

                                                                               HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, Ph.D., RN

National Nurses Week is celebrated annually from May 6, also known as National Nurses Day, through May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

“During National Nurses Week, we recognize the incredible contributions that nurses make to keep America healthy. Nurses are the backbone of the American health system. There are more nurses in our country than any other type of health care provider. And they do it all – from delivering preventive care to our children to helping seniors manage chronic diseases. There is no setting where health care is delivered where you won’t find a nurse.”

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

One of the many opportunities National Nurses Week provides is the chance to recognize the multitude of ways the nursing profession contributes to the health of the nation. Since March 2010, the Affordable Care Act has given nurses and other health care professionals a historic opportunity to improve the health of millions of Americans. Through an array of provisions in the law, the nursing profession is positioned to contribute even more to both health and health care.

Approximately 3,000 nurses, including 800 in advanced practice RNs, have been hired for a growing network of community clinics created or partly funded through the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, told representatives of national nursing organizations earlier this week during a special conference and conference call in advance of National Nurses Week.

The ACA also has increased funding for nursing faculty and for nurses willing to work in underserved areas, Wakefield said, and has doubled the number of nurse practitioners serving in the National Health Service Corps.

"There’s a lot of conversation about the Affordable Care Act" in the media and on public forums, Wakefield said, "but not so much about its tremendous investment in primary care."

What is the ACA?

The Affordable Care Act is a health care law that aims to improve our current health care system by increasing access to health coverage for Americans and introducing new protections for people who have health insurance.

The law helps small businesses pay for health insurance for their employees. And it supports programs that will help increase the number of primary care physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and other health care professionals.

There are a number of other ways that the ACA is addressing issues important to nurses, nursing education, and nursing employment:

  • Nurse Faculty Loan Program (NFLP) – It provides increased funding for schools to offer loans to nurses who want to become nurse educators. It allows money for nurses to earn the necessary masters and doctorate level education to become nurse educators. The greatest focus is on doctoral programs.
  • Nursing Student Loan Program (NLP) – It allows nursing students from disadvantaged backgrounds, or those with limited financial resources, to access money which will allow them the opportunity to study and become successful nurses.
  • Nursing Workforce Diversity Program – Along with the NLP, these programs allow for long term, low-interest student loans as well as provisions for partial loan cancellation for nurses who choose to work in designated areas of the U.S. where there is a critical shortage of health care professionals. This program will also be enhanced with stipends, traineeships and retention activities to help improve the cultural diversity among nurses and improve the care to patients through better representation of the cultural diversity in our nation.

  • Nurse Education, Practice and Retention Grant Program – This programs is updated to include a refocused quality component. This will help provide nurses with a stronger background in quality improvement in order to assist in the mandated quality improvement of the entire healthcare delivery process.

Wakefield explained she arranged the meeting to explain the status of the ACA and how it pertained to nurses. She said she wanted to hear concerns and ideas about improving access to healthcare. Marilyn Tavenner, RN, BSN, MHA, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary, also took part in the conference call.

Sebelius asked nurses to spread the word to people about their rights and benefits under the healthcare reform law, which will take full effect by the end of 2014 unless the court overturns it. "You all are the best messengers," she said. "Your patients listen to you."

She also said she fully expects the ACA will be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to render a decision on its constitutionality in June of this year.

So, as we head into National Nurses Week it is important to keep in mind our importance in the grand scheme of healthcare in this country. Yes, we are caregivers on the front lines; yes, we are educators and researchers and activists seeking to better healthcare in this country and around the world; but mostly we are professionals with something to contribute, a dedication to helping others—we need to remember to help ourselves as well by taking part in the process. We need to be aware of what is going on in government, we need to take advantage of programs that are offered to and for us and we need to make our voices heard to affect change.

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