Primary care gets boost with $250 million in HHS grants

The funds will increase residency slots and help train hundreds of new physicians, physician assistants and nurses.

By Doug Trapp — Posted July 1, 2010

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The Dept. of Health and Human Services on June 16 announced grants aimed at getting more primary care physicians into the work force.

The $250 million package comes from funding authorized by the national health reform law. Of that sum, $168 million will help train 500 physicians by 2015 by supporting primary care residency slots at teaching hospitals.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said primary care physicians keep Americans healthy by preventing disease, treating illness and helping to manage chronic conditions. "These new investments will strengthen our primary care work force to ensure that more Americans can get the quality care they need to stay healthy."

The grants are a good first step toward easing the nation's shortage of physicians, said Atul Grover, MD, PhD, chief advocacy officer for the Assn. of American Medical Colleges. Training another 500 primary care doctors could allow 1 million more people to access health care.

However, Dr. Grover said, the health reform law is expected to result in 32 million people gaining health insurance coverage. That means the expected gain from the grants is a drop in the bucket compared with the country's overall physician work force needs, he said.

The AAMC expects the U.S. to have a shortage of 50,000 physicians by 2015 -- including a deficit of 21,000 primary care doctors -- even with the health reform law's investments. Lifting the cap on Medicare support for graduate medical education would help increase the nation's physician training capacity, he said.

Of the remaining $82 million in HHS grants:

  • $32 million will help train more than 600 new physician assistants, who will practice as part of teams supervised by physicians.
  • $30 million will encourage more than 600 nursing students to attend school full time.
  • $15 million will support 10 nurse-managed health clinics, which assist in the training of nurse practitioners.
  • $5 million will allow states to plan and implement innovative strategies to expand their primary care work forces.

All told, HHS estimates the grants will support the training of more than 16,000 primary care professionals in the next five years.

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