On April 19, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a hearing, “Examining Existing Federal Programs to Build a Stronger Health Workforce and Improve Primary Care.”
During the hearing, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Administrator Carole Johnson testified on the agency’s efforts to bolster the health care workforce and expand access to care in rural and under-resourced communities, highlighting three key programs that are due to expire at the end of the fiscal year: the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) Program, and the Health Center Program. She detailed the proposed investments in these programs included in the president’s fiscal year 2024 budget request, including $195 million and $790 million for the THCGME and NHSC, respectively [refer to Washington Highlights, March 10]. Johnson also mentioned the Health Care Workforce Innovation program, a new proposed HRSA Title VII health workforce program that would “comprehensively and innovatively approach health care workforce issues.”
In advance of the hearing, the AAMC submitted a document for the record expressing support for GME programs administered by HRSA, including the THCGME and Children’s Hospitals GME programs, as well as other programs that help grow the health care workforce and encourage new graduates to practice in under-resourced communities. The AAMC also encouraged the subcommittee to preserve and protect the health care safety net by upholding the 340B Drug Pricing Program, which enables teaching hospitals to cultivate partnerships with community health centers and provide a continuum of care to under-resourced patients.
Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Larry Bucshon, MD, (R-Ind.) raised concerns about transparency and accountability in the 340B Drug Pricing Program. In a key exchange, Bucshon observed that, in some cases, researchers must submit Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain key data about the program. He referenced legislation that he is working on to “increase the transparency in 340B, so that Congress and the public can better understand when the program does or does not benefit patients.” Johnson replied, “We are very anxious to work with you on transparency issues, on accountability issues, because at the end of the day, this is a safety-net program … we want to make sure that across the system there is accountability.”
Reps. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) and Diana Harshbarger (R-Tenn.) questioned Johnson about the agency’s use of Provider Relief Fund (PRF) dollars first provided by Congress under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-139). At one point, Harshbarger asked Johnson whether the Biden administration’s recently announced HHS Bridge Program, a $1.1 billion initiative to provide COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, will be funded by the PRF. Johnson responded that the agency uses PRF dollars to provide “services and supports for individuals who are uninsured,” and that this is an “allowable use of provider relief funds.”