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As the Affordable Care Act looms large on the minds of health care providers, lawmakers and providers are increasingly calling for less stringent limitations on nonphysicians in order to meet demand spurred by the forthcoming influx of new patients.

In the past three months, a spate of assembly and senate bills have been introduced to address the matter. State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, introduced a set of bills -- Senate Bills 491 through 493 -- that would expand practice areas for a number of nurse practitioners, pharmacists, certified nurse midwives and optometrists. A separate bill by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Aurora Hills, would do the same for physician assistants.

Meanwhile, a host of physician advocacy groups unveiled their own set of bills that would address California’s well-documented primary care physician shortage without loosening restrictions on nonphysicians, among them Assembly Bill 565, which would expand a student loan repayment program for physicians who practice in medically underserved areas; AB 1176, which would create more residency slots in underserved areas by way of insurer fees; and AB 1288, which would place a priority on applications for physicians who practice in medically underserved areas.

The two approaches reflect long-running debate between physicians and non-physicians, although it’s less contentious than it has been, local health care experts said. [read more in "New proposals seek to address level of non-physician care"]