Duluth News Tribune
August 11, 2010
As the Obama Administration has pursued a broad agenda to make our health-care system work better for American families, it has been a busy 18 months.
We began with the Recovery Act, which not only created millions of jobs, but also contained a significant investment in community health centers and the electronic health records that are essential to 21st century medicine. Then in March of this year, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, to restore fairness to insurance markets, give Americans more affordable coverage options, and families and their doctors more control over care.
At the heart of these two new landmark laws is a simple principle — making sure Americans have the opportunities and tools they need for a healthier, more financially-secure life for themselves and their families.
But as we work to implement these new laws, one thing has become increasingly clear — we need to act now to make sure there are enough primary care providers so we have access to these new benefits and care.
Today 60 million Americans live in areas without a primary care physician. And communities don’t just need doctors; they need mental health providers, dentists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, too. These are the people who help patients get preventive care and make sure our children get their immunizations. They help a patient manage his heart condition, and if he needs to see a cardiologist, they help coordinate that care.
We need more primary care providers. And while this shortage is a problem that’s persisted for decades, President Obama and I are committed to filling this gap as soon as possible.
One of the best places to start is with the National Health Service Corps. For nearly 40 years, Corps’ scholarships and loan repayment have meant that the medical student worried about her loans can follow her dream and open a family practice, and the college student who wanted to give back to his community has a place in graduate nursing school.
At the same time, the Corps has made it possible for Americans in underserved communities to get the care they need.
Recently I had the chance to visit with 600 new National Health Service Corps Awardees—people who have gone to work and delivered care in communities across the country thanks to the Recovery Act.
In the audience were people like the nurse practitioner from Wilmer, Alabama, whose clients can’t afford to take a day off to get a check up, so she makes house calls in a trailer called the Wellness Express.
There was the physician assistant from Adak, Alaska, an island 1200 miles southwest of Alaska’s coast. Without her clinic, people in Adak’s small community would have to travel hundreds of miles when they got sick.
And there was the New Orleans pediatrician who is helping his community recover from years of setbacks by providing local children with comprehensive, preventive medical care.
These dedicated members of the National Health Service Corps are just three of the more than 3,000 recipients of Recovery Act awards in 2010. Next year, the Recovery Act will fund an additional thousand providers in the Corps.
There’s also money in the pipeline from the Affordable Care Act, including funds to train primary care physicians and physician assistants, and set up nurse practitioner-led clinics in underserved communities.
Support from both the Affordable Care and Recovery Acts for community health centers will allow these high-quality clinics to nearly double the number of patients receiving care. Community health centers see patients regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. Millions of Americans rely on these centers for primary care, and the Affordable Care Act will help create hundreds of new sites over the next five years.
This investment—combined with almost $160 million in new grants we announced just last week for nursing workforce development, interdisciplinary geriatric education, and Centers of Excellence to increase workforce diversity—means we can place more than 16,000 dedicated professionals in underserved communities over the next five years.
These health professionals could make more money doing something else. But they know their service in these communities is a unique opportunity to make an impact where people need help the most.
With a strong primary care workforce on the frontlines, we can envision a health-care system where every American has access to high-quality, coordinated primary care from a clinician in their community.
If you are interested in learning more about the National Health Service Corps, please go to hrsa.gov.
If you want to learn how the Administration is working to strengthen and grow our primary care workforce, go to healthcare.gov.