Deadlines loom for key components to addressing U.S. primary care shortage

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by Associate Policy Director Emily Haas

Sustaining a strong and resilient primary care workforce is essential to improving patient access to care and winning the battle against chronic disease—the central threat to health care affordability. The impact of the primary care shortage on both providers and patients has been huge, and lessening this impact must continue to be a federal priority beyond September 30th.

When physicians are trained in the communities, they are more likely to stay in these communities—many of which are underserved areas. When physicians fill these provider gaps, they can contribute great value to overall population health management as governments and stakeholders alike seek to find new ways to improve population health with targeted interventions. Primary care providers are essential to the betterment of population health.

A fact sheet released by the Coalition highlights the importance of key workforce policies to primary care and is a part of the NCHC’s overall strategy and policy of strengthening primary care.

Last week, NCHC along with partners AAFP, ACP, NACHC, and AOA hosted a briefing stressing the important role played in  primary care by federal  workforce and health center programs. The need for action to preserve existing federal support for the Federal Qualified Health Center (FQHC), National Health Service Corps, and Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education programs is a vital one.

Speakers from all three organizations illustrated the value of these programs and the need to reauthorize funding. Jack Ende, M.D. of ACP made the argument for investing in primary care by noting that U.S. adults with primary care providers have lower odds of premature death and overall have 33% lower health costs. Furthermore, states with higher ratios of primary care doctors have better health outcomes and decreased Medicare expenditures.

Clif Knight, M.D. highlighted the maldistribution of primary care doctors in his presentation. An increase of one primary care physician per 10,000 people is associated with an average mortality reduction of 5.3%, or 49 fewer deaths per 100,000 per year.

Maria Verduzco, M.D. shared her personal experience as an NHSC recipient and someone who has long been a part of the community she serves. She returned to her home of Yakama, WA after medical school   to train at the local Teaching Health Center. Dr. Verduzco’s story is a prime example of the system working—training physicians where they are needed most and keeping them there.  She also spoke to the important role community health centers play in addressing the primary care needs of an underserved population.

John Sealey, D.O.—also a product of the NHSC program—discussed his experience with underserved populations in the Detroit area and their partnerships with local universities. As a part of his work, Dr. Sealey runs a Teaching Health Center that requires residents receive a 2-year population health certification. This is a prime example of how the THCGME program fosters innovation in the primary care space and the integration of primary care with community-based services.

These important programs are set to expire in just a few days.

As emphasized through the speakers’ presentations, these programs have a direct impact on not only physician workforce and training but on patients. Thus, NCHC encourages Congress to act by reauthorizing funding for Federal Qualified Health Center, National Health Service Corps, and Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education programs.

See our letter to Congress in support of these programs here.

Reporter insights from the NCHC briefing: