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HELP Subcommittee Discusses Primary Care Workforce Challenges

April 11, 2014—The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging April 9 held the third in a series of hearings focused on primary care access and workforce challenges.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) acknowledged in his opening statement that physician supply would not keep up with the increasing demand and suggested a need to identify workforce programs with a “proven track record” of success.

He joined an April 9 letter with Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) requesting that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provide details about the workforce programs under the department’s purview.

During the hearing, the subcommittee heard testimony from two panels of witnesses, including Rebecca Spitzgo, associate administrator of the Bureau of Health Professions at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and Linda Kohn, Ph.D., director of health care at the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Subcommittee members questioned the panels about the factors driving access challenges in primary care, such as reimbursement, prestige, and other incentives. Panelists also described the value of federal investments in workforce development initiatives such as the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and other HRSA programs.

One witness, James Hotz, M.D., clinical services director of Albany Area Primary Care, referenced an April 7 letter  from 50 member organizations of the NHSC Stakeholders, including AAMC, urging appropriators to extend funding for the NHSC, which expires at the end of FY 2015.

AAMC Chief Public Policy Officer Atul Grover, M.D., Ph.D., submitted an April 9 letter  applauding the subcommittee for its attention to the need to invest in physician workforce development.

The letter describes the urgency of expanding Medicare graduate medical education (GME) support, noting that “[p]rescribing a static specialty composition or targeting increases to any singular discipline in legislation will preclude physician training efforts from adapting to varying and evolving local workforce needs.” It also characterizes the perils of proposals to reduce Medicare GME support, citing results from a recent survey by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education.

On the same day of the hearing, Subcommittee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation (S. 2229) to extend and expand funding for community health centers, NHSC, and the teaching health centers program. The bill also expands Medicare support for family medicine residencies and imposes various requirements on medical schools and teaching hospitals.


Tannaz Rasouli
Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach
Telephone: 202-828-0525


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