HHS to Delay, Revise Anesthesia Supervision Rule
The Bush administration yesterday announced that it would "delay -- and ultimately undo" a federal rule issued by former President Clinton that would allow nurse anesthetists to administer anesthesia to Medicare beneficiaries without physician oversight, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports. In addition, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said he would write a new rule that would reinstate the "long-standing" Medicare requirement that nurse anesthetists may give anesthesia only when supervised by a physician. States that have laws in place that enable nurses to autonomously administer anesthesia would be permitted to bypass the federal requirement as long as local health experts deem the practice beneficial to patient care, Thompson said. Twenty-nine states have laws allowing nurses to administer anesthesia without supervision (AP/Los Angeles Times, 5/15). The administration will take six months to revise the rule, Bush aides said.
The anesthesia quandary has sparked "impassioned debate" within the federal government and states, the Washington Post reports. Anesthesiologists "do not want to relinquish" their work to specially trained nurses, and nurses say they "need to be able to work on their own to ensure that anesthesia is available" in rural areas, where physicians are "scarce." American Association of Nurse Anesthetists spokesperson Christopher Bettin said the organization was not "crushed" by the administration's decision, adding, "It's not exactly what we wanted, ... but we're pleased that they've continued to recognize this should be a decision made at the state level" (Goldstein, Washington Post, 5/18). American Society of Anesthesiologists President Dr. Neil Swissman hailed the decision, saying, "This is a great day for seniors everywhere. For more than three years, ASA has been arguing that patient safety was at stake, and now someone has listened" (American Society of Anesthesiologists release, 5/17).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.