Masks are required as the campus is at red status.

Improving Access to Mental Health Care for Arkansans

By Caleb Taylor

How can Arkansas improve access to mental health care? 

Zak Massey, a former ACRE Research Fellow, discussed the benefits to Arkansas’s mental health outcomes of expanding scope of practice for nurse practitioners in an op-ed published in Arkansas Business on July 27 entitled “Free Nurse Practitioners.”

Massey writes:

Nurse practitioners can provide additional mental health care in underserved areas. They are educated in specialties, allowing some to be board-certified as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners. Their training prepares them to provide pharmacological and therapeutic treatment for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and much more.”

However, state law currently restricts nurse practitioners from practicing to the full extent of their training and education.

Massey writes:

But in the absence of a contract with a doctor, a nurse practitioner is unable to prescribe medications for those with mental illness. Arkansas law prevents a nurse practitioner from practicing independently without a written collaborative agreement with a physician. However, some physicians do not accept collaborative relationships. Twenty-two states do not require similar agreements. If NPs were allowed to act independently, more Arkansans would have access to care.”

Arkansas legislators have previously considered removing this restriction. ACRE Director and UCA Associate Professor of Economics Dr. David Mitchell spoke before both the House and Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Labor committees on February 20 and February 26, 2019 about the need for increased scope of practice for nurse practitioners in Arkansas.

Members of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee considered Senate Bill 189 sponsored by Senator Dave Wallace. You can watch the livestream of the committee meeting here. Members of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee considered House Bill 1282 sponsored by Representative Robin Lundstrum. You can watch the livestream of the committee meeting here.

Both bills failed narrowly in committee but this legislation will likely be deliberated on again in the next legislative session in 2021.  

For more of ACRE’s research on nurse practitioners, check out our labor market regulation page.

Mitchell is also the co-author with Jordan Pfaff and Zachary Helms of an ACRE Policy Brief entitled “Solving Arkansas’s Primary Care Problems by Empowering Nurse Practitioners.