June 3, 2009

Cantwell, Collins, Whitehouse Announce Legislation to Address Underserved Populations and Shortage of Primary Care Workers

‘Preserving Patient Access to Primary Care Act’ Would Provide Efficient, Prevention-Oriented Care Throughout the Nation

WASHINGTON, DC – Thursday, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) announced the introduction of the Preserving Patient Access to Primary Care Act to address two fundamental problems in health care: a critical shortage of primary care physicians and inefficient Medicare reimbursements that do not reward a coordinated approach of patients’ health care needs.  The legislation aims to provide efficient, cost effective, prevention oriented care throughout the country, especially in underserved and rural communities.
“As the country talks about how to provide health care coverage to the uninsured, we must also address shortages in access to care for the underserved,” said Cantwell.  “While providing the uninsured with coverage is a priority, it’s not enough if people don’t have access to qualified physicians.  We must address both problems as we set about reforming the health care system.  Experts estimate that there will be a shortage of 46,000 primary care physicians, even as the number of patients increases, by 2025.  We can address this problem by adopting long overdue reforms to improve pay levels for primary care providers, while also taking measures to ensure an adequate primary care workforce, especially in rural areas.”
According to a report issued by the American College of Physicians, “primary care, the backbone of the nation’s health care system, is at grave risk of collapse.”  They also predict that the country will need 40 percent more primary care physicians by 2020.  In addition, detailed studies from the Center for Evaluative Clinical Sciences at Dartmouth and the Commonwealth Fund found that populations with ready access to primary care physicians realize improved health outcomes, reduced mortality, lower utilization of health care resources, and lower overall costs to care.
“Our country faces a critical shortage of primary care providers, especially in rural states like Maine.  It is well documented that populations served by an adequate supply of primary care physicians have improved health outcomes, reduced mortality, and lower health care costs.  Moreover, when it comes to access to health care, all too often, having an insurance card isn’t enough because there aren’t enough primary care providers to provide the care.  Our legislation would help address the primary care shortage by creating incentives for more physicians to go into primary care specialties,” said Sen. Collins.
“Our health care system is complex and costly, yet doesn’t provide patients with the quality of care they need,” said Sen. Whitehouse, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “Improving access to primary care is the bedrock of a cost-effective, high-quality health care system and this legislation will bring us closer to that goal.”
Specifically, the Preserving Patient Access to Primary Care Act would:
Establish scholarships and loan forgiveness in exchange for primary care service commitments in critical shortage areas;
Create grants for medical school mentorship programs and primary care training in community health centers;
Increase Title VII and National Health Service Corps funding for primary care training;
Remove caps on the number of residencies funded by the Medicare GME program with a preference for the new residencies given to primary care;
Eliminates barriers to increased training in ambulatory care settings for primary care trainees; and,
Enact Medicare payment reforms to support the value of primary care in improving quality, coordinating care and reducing costs, and a transition to a new payment system based on the Patient Centered Medical Home.

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