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Legislation could improve access to care by physician assistants

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In northeast Kansas City on Independence Avenue, there's just one medical clinic, Neighborhood Family Care.

Every day, at least three new patients come through the door, and altogether, up to 40 patients are seen.

"I see everybody who lives in this neighborhood," says Dr. Elaine Joslyn.

Dr. Joslyn couldn't do it alone. She has a physician assistant or PA, Karen Leuenberger.

PAs diagnose, treat and prescribe under the supervision of a doctor. They often work in underserved areas such as northeast Kansas City where there are high numbers of uninsured and Medicaid patients.

"She's good with the kids. When something's wrong, she gets right on top of it," says Tonya Colunga of Karen.

Currently, Karen and other PAs in Missouri must have their supervising doc in the clinic two-thirds of the time that they're providing care. But legislation awaiting Gov. Jay Nixon's signature changes that. The doc will only need to be in the same location with the PA a half day out of every 14.

Karen says Missouri has had one of the most restrictive laws in the nation, and the change will encourage more PAs to practice in the state.

"So patients can get the care when they need to get care where they need to get care," says Karen.

The law will allow Dr. Joslyn to get some much-needed time off.

"I'm comfortable if she's got a problem, she's not going to get in over her head," says Dr. Joslyn.

"Now she can go and I can cover the patients. I'll still have a supervising physician I can reach by phone, but they won't have to be here in the office," says Karen.

And she says patients won't have to wait for care.

If the governor signs the bill, it will go into effect Aug. 28.

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