I recently attended the North Carolina Nurses Association Day at the Legislature. Most states have similar events to raise nurses' awareness of policy issues that affect them and their patients as well as to give them a glimpse into how bills are brought forward and passed.
This event is intended not only to raise nurses' awareness but to raise policy makers' awareness of the issues nurses are passionate about. For a couple of weeks before the event, you are encouraged to make contact with the representatives from your district and to have them come to know you personally while you are at the General Assembly. Continuing education credits are also provided for nurses.
There were over 850 nurses and nursing students present on the day that I attended. Here is what I learned:
We are powerful in numbers
In North Carolina alone there are over 140,000 nurses. If all nurses were to put pressure on legislators around the same issue, imagine that voice! The American Nurses Association (ANA) estimated that in 2011 there were 3.1 million nurses in the United States.1 Is that staggering or what?
State nurses association sets legislative priorities
In North Carolina, they are trying to increase access to care by enabling registered nurses to practice fully within their scope of practice as established by education and national certification, consistent with the 2010 IOM report, "The Future of Nursing." They also aim to offer reimbursement for registered nurses when delivering healthcare services within their scope of practice when those services are eligible for reimbursement to any other provider.
One pilot program was discussed in which $20 million was saved by allowing everyone to practice within their full scope. Do nurses practice at their full scope in your state? Who regulates their practice and determines reimbursement? Are you aware of your state's legislative priorities?
Amendments and bills
When affecting large numbers of people, bills can get passed by very few, and very quickly. I sat in on the voting of an amendment regarding taxes in our state that would remove a $50,000 business income write off for people making more than $500,000 per year but continue to allow it for those making less than $500,000 per year. Facts were presented by the group bringing the bill forward, questions and rebuttal followed (not all of it professional, to be honest), the amendment was voted on (it failed), and the bill voted on (the write off for those making greater than $500,000 passed). These sessions are open to the public (House and Senate at the State level) and are worth sitting in on just once. You might be surprised to see how decisions are reached and how quickly, although we didn't see how long or how much each representative was lobbied about the issue.
If you have the opportunity, I would urge you to attend one of these events within your own state. Explore the legislative priorities of your state nurses association and see if they resonate with you and if you feel called to act -- there is power in numbers.
- American Nurses Association. Fact Sheet. (2011, May). Retrieved March 12, 2013 from http://nursingworld.org/NursingbytheNumbersFactSheet.aspx.
- North Carolina Nurses Association. NCNA Government Affairs. Retrieved March 12, 2013 from http://www.ncnurses.org/legislative/.