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Polis signs bill to give Colorado physician assistants more leeway to treat patients

Doctor's office
Posted at 9:26 AM, May 05, 2023

DENVER — Our Denver7 partners first shared Heather Sisenstein's story back in January.

The single-mom lives in the Lamar with her 7-year-old daughter. She had received contraceptive care for years from a physician assistant (PA) she grew to love and trust, but when she learned the doctor at her practice was retiring, her PA couldn't offer her the care she needed anymore.

“Her previous supervisor was stepping out, and somebody else was now her supervisor who did not have the certification or knowledge to do that,” said Sisenstein.

Sisenstein’s only option was to travel to Pueblo several times, which is a two-hour drive each way. Her physician assistant, Susanna Storeng, ended up moving to Michigan.

 “The lack of my ability to practice my training,” said Storeng. “I wanted to stay, but I’m the primary breadwinner for my family of four. I couldn't risk being out of a job in a rural area."

Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 23-083 into law last week to address this problem.

 “It’s not doing the job without the doctor. It’s a collaborative agreement where we're saying you should have a collaborative agreement with a physician or numerous physicians,” said state Sen. Faith Winter (D), one of the bill's sponsors.

 Right now, physician assistants must be under the supervision of a physician. SB23-083 will give PAs more flexibility, which physician assistant Heidi Warner is thrilled about.

 “This bill allows me now to practice to the top of my training and use my years and years of experience to work to the top of my license and increase access to care to all Coloradans,” said Winter. "There are a lot of places in Colorado that don't have a physician. And in those situations, now, a PA will be able to practice at the top of their training and expertise to provide care for people who have to travel otherwise hours for access to care."

State Senator Kyle Mullica (D), who is an emergency room nurse, disagrees with the collaborative approach, citing patient safety.

 “Collaboration is not oversight,” said Mullica in January.

 Winter says safety won't be a concern.

 “We’re ensuring if a physician assistant is getting new training, they have a certain amount of training. They have a certain amount of training before providing the health care they're certified to do,” said Winter.

SB23-083 will take effect later this year.