6/13/2013 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to build a stronger health care workforce and ensure patients have access to the medical care they need, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced the Building a Health Care Workforce for the Future Act (S. 1152).  This legislation would help make it easier for students to pursue careers in health care, with an emphasis on primary care, and encourage providers to work in medically under-served communities and practice areas of highest need.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, by 2020, there will be a nationwide shortage of 91,000 physicians.  Approximately half of the shortage, 45,000, will be in primary care.

“Our nation faces a longstanding shortage of health care providers.  In particular, the demand for primary care doctors is growing, but the supply is not keeping pace.  This is a problem that is only going to get worse unless Congress acts,” said Senator Reed.  “The Reed-Blunt plan would give our medical workforce a booster shot and ultimately expand and improve access to health care.”

“As our nation faces many health care challenges, including workforce shortages, it’s critical that we encourage medical students to pursue careers in primary and specialty care in underserved communities,” Senator Blunt said. “This bill will help to build a stronger health care workforce while increasing access to quality health care for those who need it most.”

Specifically, the bill includes:

•             State Scholarship Programs: The bill expands on the success of the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program by providing states federal matching funds help address health care workforce shortages in professional shortage areas designated by the state and approved by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

•             Mentors for Medical Students: The bill would authorize grants to medical schools to increase mentorship opportunities for medical students who express interest in a primary care.

•             New Competencies: As the nation’s demographics and health care delivery system change, the health care workforce will face new challenges.  The bill would authorize grants to medical schools to improve competencies in priority areas, including educational innovations in promoting the patient-centered medical home; primary and behavioral health integration; cultural competency; and team-based care.

•             Documentation Requirements for Cognitive Service: Medicare requires physicians providing evaluation and management services to complete extensive and burdensome documentation requirements.  The bill would direct the Institute of Medicine to conduct a study within three years that examines how such requirements could be modified for electronic records, analyzes whether the requirements are excessive and potentially detract from patient care, and provides recommendations for less burdensome alternatives.

Providers across the spectrum of care recognize that this bipartisan legislation is part of the solution to addressing the looming health care workforce shortage and have lent their support, including:  the Alliance of Specialty Medicine; the American Association of College of Osteopathic Medicine; the American College of Physicians; the American Osteopathic Association; the Association of Academic Health Centers; the Association of American Medical Colleges; and the Society of General Internal Medicine.

Reed also noted that the Affordable Care Act includes important incentives aimed at increasing the number of primary care physicians across the country, including those who accept Medicaid.  It includes scholarship programs and loan repayments and forgiveness programs for medical school graduates to enter primary care, nursing, or becoming physician’s assistants.