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  • Washington Highlights

    Congressional Committees Consider Health Care Workforce Needs in Hearings

    Matthew Shick, Sr. Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs

    The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) May 22 conducted a hearing titled “The Health Care Workforce: Addressing Shortages and Improving Care.” The same week, the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Subcommittee on Health May 23 examined another healthcare workforce program, the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education (CHGME) program, during a hearing titled “Reauthorization of the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education Program.” The importance of federal financial support for graduate medical education (GME) to addressing physician workforce shortages - both regionally and in specific specialties -was a key focus during both hearings.

    At the HELP hearing, Senators asked about the availability of federal GME support - such as Medicare reimbursement for the GME costs of teaching hospitals when they care for Medicare patients and Title VII workforce grants - and how use those funds to incentivize providers to practice in rural areas. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stated, “One of the complaints that I’m hearing across the state is that all the GME money gets sucked up by the big teaching hospitals in urban areas.” Similarly, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) asked witnesses about the “geographic maldistribution” of GME dollars.

    Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) spoke about workforce programs administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) that could have a positive impact on recruiting physicians to rural areas, but she stressed that these programs are at risk of being cut. In her opening remarks, Sen. Murray stated, “These are great programs with a positive impact – but we need to invest in that impact on a larger scale, because compared to the scope of the challenge, we’re fighting fires with a squirt gun. We’ve got the right idea, but we need to do a lot more. Unfortunately, President Trump seems interested in doing a lot less. His budget proposal would all but end these efforts, cutting dozens of programs entirely and slashing funding by over 90 percent.”

    The hearing follows an April 12 HELP Committee hearing on the fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget for HRSA Workforce and Rural Health Programs [see, Washington Highlights, April 13].

    The need for additional support for healthcare workforce programs was also highlighted at the E&C hearing on CHGME. In opening the hearing, Rep. Michael Burgess, MD who chairs the E&C Subcommittee on Health, stated, “Our children deserve the best care available to them, and ensuring we have an adequately prepared pediatric workforce is the first step in providing quality health care to our children…Needless to say, CHGME is vital in allowing children’s hospitals to maintain and grow their workforce, especially as the need for new programs such as child and adolescent psychiatry emerges.”

    Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), E&C Committee Chair, stressed the need for additional funding in light of the looming physician shortage. He stated, “The United States is facing a severe shortage of physicians and the case is no different for pediatric specialists. Now more than ever, we must continue to support this vital training program for pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists in children’s hospitals.”  The CHGME program must be reauthorized before it expires on September 30, 2018.