New Laws Expand the Autonomy of Physician Assistants in Pennsylvania

On October 7, 2021, Governor Tom Wolf signed five new bills into law, including legislation that provides for permanent COVID-19 waivers that will give physician assistants more leeway and autonomy to practice in Pennsylvania. Senate Bills 397 and 398 update the scope of physician assistant practice by changing the requirement that physician assistants provide care “under the supervision and direction” of a supervising physician to require that the physician assistant need only be under the “supervision” of a supervising physician. The bills also increase the composition of the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine and the State Board of Medicine by two members, a physician assistant and a physician, who will be appointed by the governor.

According to Jeremy Dias, Chief of Staff for Pennsylvania Senator Joe Pittman , the bills are said to also “streamline the written agreement, which will now identify the primary supervising physician, describe the physician assistant’s scope of practice, and describe the nature and degree of supervision the primary supervising physician will provide the physician assistant.” The bills further increase the ratio of physician assistants that a single physician can supervise from four to six in all practice settings, while prohibiting an employer or entity from requiring a physician to supervise more if the physician determines that it would negatively impact patient care or the supervision of other physician assistants.

In introducing the bills, Senator Joe Pittman argued that the legislation would allow for the retention of more high quality physician assistants by making it more appealing, and thereby encouraging, physician assistants to practice in the Commonwealth. In supporting the legislation, the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) stated that the legislation will:

  • Ensure physician assistants can practice immediately upon filing of an executory supervisory agreement, eliminating administrative-approval delays that can extend 120 days or longer
  • Allow physicians to supervise up to six physician assistants
  • Give physician assistants and physicians more flexibility to decide how they want to work together in their daily practice
  • Place a physician and a physician assistant on the medical and osteopathic boards

The bills mark a revision to the Osteopathic Medical Practice Act and the Medical Practice Act of 1985, respectively.