The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a legislative hearing on Oct. 26 titled, "Caring for America: Legislation to Support Patients, Caregivers, and Providers." The hearing considered the AAMC-supported Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act (H.R. 1667) [refer to Washington Highlights, March 12].
In her opening statement, subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) noted, "In the first year of the pandemic, over 3,600 U.S. health care workers died fighting COVID-19, according to the Guardian and Kaiser Health News, and since February 2020, about 1 in 5 health care workers have quit their jobs. For those still on the job, almost all report experiencing stress, and most report being emotionally and physically exhausted. ... This hearing is a first step towards treating our nation's health care workers as heroes."
In his opening statement, subcommittee Ranking Member Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) said, "Now more than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our country is facing severe workforce shortages, and the health care industry is no exception. Since the beginning of the pandemic, health care workers have stepped up to the plate and have been on the front lines fighting against this terrible virus."
“One of the most vital health needs confronting Kentucky is the shortage of physicians, particularly primary care doctors serving in community settings. I am proud to represent the University of Kentucky’s College of Medicine - Bowling Green campus in my district and my hometown, which aims to address this critical need,” added Rep. Guthrie.
While testifying in support of the Lorna Breen Act, Corey Feist, MBA, co-founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Heroes’ Foundation and chief executive officer of the University of Virginia Physicians Group, noted, "Nearly half of those health care professionals who need mental health treatment won't have access to it for fear of professional repercussions. Given the trauma and burnout they have experienced, this is like sending the entire health care workforce off to war for 18 months and then refusing to support them when they return."
Feist also encouraged members to "take up this critical legislation and demonstrate our collective commitment to supporting those who have supported all of us during the past year and a half." The Senate passed its version of the Lorna Breen Act by unanimous consent earlier this year [refer to Washington Highlights, Aug. 13].
Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine, discussed the need to invest in our public health and workforce preparedness and highlighted her support for the Lorna Breen Act and the BIO Preparedness Workforce Act of 2021 (H.R. 5602).
"Addressing bio-preparedness and [infectious disease] workforce shortages in Alabama and communities across the country is very important to me because I have seen firsthand the devastating effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the communities in my state — with disproportionate effects on people most vulnerable to this disease — namely, people of color, people in rural areas, people living in poverty and those with common medical comorbidities like diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease," noted Dr. Marrazzo.
Brooks Keel, PhD, president of Augusta University — which includes the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) — discussed the details of the school's 3+ Program, which reduces undergraduate medical education to three years and provides scholarship stipends to their students in exchange for practicing in rural and underserved locations in primary care fields. The MCG defines primary care as "Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Emergency Medicine, General Surgery, and Family Medicine."
Members from both parties — including full committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) — expressed interest in the 3+ Program and asked how other states can use this model to recruit physicians to underserved areas.
During their questioning, Reps. Larry Bucshon, MD, (R-Ind.) and Michael Burgess, MD, (R-Texas) highlighted the impact of the looming Medicare physician payment cuts (including the calendar year 2021 Physician Fee Schedule rule payment cuts going into effect [refer to Washington Highlights, Dec. 23, 2020], the expiration of the current moratorium on the 2% Medicare sequester [refer to Washington Highlights, April 16], and the anticipated 4% Medicare sequester due to Congress’ use of the reconciliation process to pass the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (P.L. 117-2) [refer to Washington Highlights, March 19].
Bucshon and Burgess also mentioned the recent release of the interim final rule on the implementation of the No Surprises Act (P.L. 116-68), which provider groups believe stands to negatively impact physician payment [refer to Washington Highlights, Oct. 1]. Both members urged the committee to address these looming cuts to support the physician workforce.
In response, Alan Levine, chief executive officer and president of Ballad Health, noted, "These cuts couldn't happen at a worse time, specifically for those practicing in rural and underserved communities. Addressing these issues will not only assist our physician workforce, but our nursing workforce as well, and will lead to better care for all patients."
Other bills discussed at the hearing included the Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Act (H.R. 1474), the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Act of 2021 (H.R. 3297), the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act of 2021 (H.R. 3320), the Helping Enable Access to Lifesaving Services Act (H.R. 5583), and the Enhancing the Community Health Workforce Act (H.R. 5594).