N.J. psychiatrists launch website to defeat bill giving psychologists Rx rights
By Susan K. Livio
December 05, 2014
The New Jersey Psychiatric Association unveiled a new website, ProtectNJpatients.com, that explains why the state legislature, the governor and the public should oppose the bill that passed the Assembly in June.
While psychologists “are a very important part of New Jersey’s healthcare infrastructure,” they don’t have the education, training and supervision of a doctor, and would not be able to take into account a patient’s overall health and medical conditions when prescribing a drug, said Debra Koss, an association trustee.
“The legislation would allow psychologists to prescribe medications with just 400 hours of training, no additional medical education and under no supervision,” she said. “The fact of the matter is A2892/S184 is unsafe for New Jersey patients and would place patients, particularly vulnerable populations like adolescents and the elderly, at risk.”
Psychiatrists, who are all medical doctors, as well as physician assistants and advance practice nurses are permitted to prescribe medication. But psychologists have long pushed for this right. The bill, if approved, would extend the power to psychologists who hold a post-doctoral degree in psychopharmacology or have an equivalent level of training deemed acceptable by the Board of Psychological Examiners, according to the bill. Psychologists also would need to pass an exam developed by a nationally recognized authority.
The bill also would require the Board of Psychological Examiners to forward a list of prescribing psychologists to the state Board of Pharmacy for monitoring purposes.
Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), said he and his colleagues sponsored the bill (A2894) because there is a shortage of psychiatrists in New Jersey, which limits access to mental health treatment.
According to a survey commissioned by the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, there are 1,505 psychiatrists and only 702 of them accepted insurance from one of the seven largest managed care groups. Nearly half of the 1,505 said they were accepting new patients, according to the survey released in October.
Diegnan also said the association is misrepresenting what the bill would actually do. A psychologist would have to consult with the patient’s medical doctor before issuing the prescription, he said.
The bill’s opponents suggests psychologists will prescribe “casually,” but Diegnan said that as an attorney who has represented people with mental illness at psychiatric commitment hearings, that belief doesn’t square with the facts.
“The irony of this is psychologists are the people who deal with (patients) on a regular basis,” he said, not psychiatrists.
Diegnan said he did not know when the Senate would take up his bill.
With its website, the Psychiatric Association is making a preemptive strike against the bill, which failed to pass in the last legislature session.
“It is our hope that the general public, members of the Legislature and the Office of the Governor will visit this site to learn more about the issue as this process moves forward,” Dr. Koss said. “Granting prescriptive authority to individuals without adequate education or training is not the answer to improving patient care. In fact, it would place our patients at risk.”
This story has been corrected to reflect a more complete list of the medical professionals who are permitted to write prescriptions. They are physicians, including psychiatrists, advance practice nurses and physician assistants.