PAs: Key to Kentucky’s health care provider shortage


Navigating the health care world can be frustrating and stressful. But PAs, or physician assistants, are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, and can serve as your primary healthcare provider.

From Oct. 6-12 we’re celebrating National PA Week, which recognizes our profession and its contributions to the nation’s health. During PA Week, we hope you’ll have the chance to talk to a PA about what it is we do, and why we’re proud to do it.

There are more than 123,000 PAs working across the country and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession is expected to grow 37 percent between 2016 and 2036.

Unfortunately, Kentucky is lagging once again. Our commonwealth is the only state in the nation that does not allow PAs to prescribe some level of controlled medications, even though PAs are medical providers with extensive graduate level training in pharmacology and pharmacotherapeutics. It’s time for Kentucky to join the other 49 states and meet this basic standard of care by allowing PAs to prescribe non-narcotic Schedule II, and Schedule III-V medications.

PAs are well-positioned to treat our nation’s most vulnerable populations, including those in rural and underserved communities. Here in Kentucky, we are amid an unprecedented physician shortage and a complex opioid crisis; PAs are poised to be on the front lines. Always innovative and flexible, PAs are the solution to some of our health care system’s biggest problems.

There is a national recognition that PAs need to be engaged in the process of prescribing controlled medications, even as Kentucky lags behind. When Congress approved the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA) in 2016, a process was established for PAs to prescribe buprenorphine, which is used to combat opioid addiction.

If the Kentucky General Assembly does not allow PA prescriptive authority, Kentucky PAs will not be able to participate in this expanded opportunity to treat patients with opioid addictions. Given the significant health care provider shortage in the state, that would be a tragic missed opportunity. 

Of course, any changes to our state’s laws must maintain a secure system for the prescribing and dispensing of these medications. PAs seeking the authority to write such prescriptions would have to, together with a physician, submit a joint application to the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure.

PAs would also be required to apply for and receive a registration from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as all prescribers of controlled medications do. And, ultimately, their supervising physicians would still have the final say in whether a PA can obtain prescriptive authority.

Kentucky is actively inhibiting the ability of its health care providers to compete with surrounding states. That, along with some of the highest rates of chronic illness and disease in the nation, is creating a growing drain on our families and our workforce’s ability to compete.  Kentucky PAs are already in the trenches helping many patients dealing with conditions requiring controlled prescriptions.

It’s time for our state to catch up to the rest of the country and give PAs the authority to better help these patients receive the care they need by passing prescriptive authority for non-narcotic Schedule II, and Schedule III-V medications during the 2019 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Laurie K. Garner, PA-C, PhD. is KAPA’s 2018-19 president. 

Kentucky Today’s Perspectives section provides a public forum for our readers to express their views on issues of importance. The opinions expressed are those of the writer and should not be construed as an official position taken by this newspaper. We encourage you to join in the conversation by sending your essays to We reserve the right to reject submissions deemed inappropriate.


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