The American Society of Anesthesiologists' worst nightmare is now at hand. Due to clever promotion from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, the vast majority of patients in the U.S. can be sedated by CRNA's without any physician supervision. According to the AANA, there are now 42 states that do not require the CRNA's to take direction from any doctor.
The ASA thought they were doing well holding the opt-out of supervision states to just 17. Covid changed that calculus almost overnight. By pushing the narrative that critical care physicians are in short supply due to the pandemic, the AANA was able to convince a panic stricken federal government to drop the requirement for physician supervision during this health emergency. Unless a state specifically keeps the opt-in regulations, in essence the federal government has allowed all states to drop requirements for physician supervision.
This is just a temporary situation, right? Once we have herd immunity and everybody has gotten the vaccine, we can go back to the way we were, amiright? Uh huh. So far, government officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci don't seem to be in any hurry to declare the pandemic under control. Instead there are new variants popping up seemingly each week that require people to keep wearing their masks and consider getting annual booster shots to tame the virus. Though economies are starting to open up, control of the virus appears to be still a long ways off.
The longer the government and payers taste the elixir of CRNA billing, the more they are going to stay with the opt-out model. As our own group has experienced, CRNA's make anesthesia billing more viable as payers relentlessly pursue cost cutting measures. CRNA's can do 90% of the work anesthesiologists can do at half the price. Payers don't care about the anesthesia complications that arise from unsupervised nurses. That is the risk they are willing to take when confronted with the stark economic advantages of opting out.
For a long time the ASA has had its finger in the dike lobbying to prevent more states from removing physician supervision. Unfortunately for the organization, and all patients and anesthesiologists, there probably won't be a happy ending to this story. The covid tsunami has swamped that wall and the last barrier to removing physician supervision has probably been breached.