Anesthesiologists in Colorado are suing Republican Gov. Bill Owens to block his plan to let nurse anesthetists treat Medicare patients without a physician present.
Owens told the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners and Colorado Board of Nursing earlier this month that he will notify CMS on March 4 that the state is opting out of the federal requirement that physicians supervise nurses giving anesthesia to Medicare recipients.
States have been able to opt out of the longstanding Medicare rule since November 2001 as long as state law does not require physician supervision. Only five states have chosen that option to date, according to Frederick Yu, a Denver attorney representing the Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists, which filed the lawsuit Friday.
"We seek a declaratory judgment that opt-out is not consistent with state law," says Randall Clark, M.D., governmental affairs coordinator and past president of the Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists.
Owens, in his Feb. 4 letter to the regulatory boards, claims that relaxing the standard will help protect access to care in rural areas. He also says that a state law defining the scope of nursing practice does in fact allow certified registered nurse anesthetists to work unsupervised.
A gubernatorial spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
Clark says that removing the supervisory requirement "is dangerous and unnecessary," and he refutes the notion that the current rule threatens patient access.
"Our response is, 'You have been meeting this standard for 40 years, why change now?'" Clark says in a statement.
Clark, a director of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, says the national association's board is meeting this weekend to discuss joining the Colorado suit.