California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

HHS Pledges $250M To Strengthen Primary Care Work Force Nationwide

On Wednesday, HHS announced that it will dedicate $250 million from a public health fund established under the health reform law to help produce 16,000 new primary care physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners by 2015, CQ HealthBeat reports (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 6/16).

HHS will allocate the funding through the health care law's $500 million Prevention and Public Health Fund as follows:

  • $168 million to create additional primary care residency slots, which will create more than 500 new primary care physicians over the next five years;
  • $32 million to support primary care training for more than 600 physician assistants;
  • $30 million to help more than 600 nursing students enroll in full-time programs;
  • $15 million to fund 10 nurse-managed health centers to train nurse practitioners (Pecquet, The Hill, 6/16); and
  • $5 million in grants to states to implement "innovative strategies" to expand the primary care work force by 10% to 25% over a decade (HHS release, 6/16).

Lawmakers, Advocates Respond

Although legislators agree that increasing the primary care work force is important, some Senate Democrats are coming out against HHS' plan, saying that appropriating 50% of the Prevention and Public Health Fund to strengthen the PCP work force is not the intent of the law, CongressDaily reports.

According to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the fund aims to improve both prevention efforts and the provider work force, but some of the details got "lost in the shuffle" during congressional negotiations.

Echoing this concern, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the work force programs were "not an ideal implementation of the funds."

Jeff Levi, the executive director of Trust for America's Health, said utilizing half of the public fund for work force efforts also may detract from future prevention strategies.

Meanwhile, the Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of HHS, maintains that bolstering the primary care work force aligns with prevention goals (McCarthy, CongressDaily, 6/17). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.