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Improving primary care on agenda as COVID-19 public health emergency ends


House Committee on Energy and Commerce to convene hearing this month.

U.S. Capitol: © eurobanks - stock.adobe.com

© eurobanks - stock.adobe.com

Improving primary care will be on the agenda when the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee meets later this month.

On April 19, the committee will convene a legislative hearing on current federal government programs to support the health care workforce and improve primary care. The hearing notice listed eight pending bills that could affect primary care. Witnesses will include Carole Johnson, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington) and Health Subcommittee Chair Brett Guthrie (R-Kentucky) issued a joint statement referencing the May 11 end of the public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we finally unwind the public health emergency, it’s critical to evaluate how existing community-based health care programs effectively meet the needs of patients,” they said. “We need to reauthorize various public health programs that play a crucial role in providing primary care services in our communities as well as support workforce training and education. This hearing will give members an opportunity to examine how these programs are working and better understand any gaps that may need to be addressed.”

DOC Act for physician training

The pending legislation includes a draft bill supporting teaching health centers that operate graduate medical education programs. Another bill is the Doctors of Community (DOC) Act, with more money and permanent authorization for the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program to support training for primary care and dental residents, especially in high-need communities.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-New Jersey), Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-New Mexico), and Rep. Raul Ruiz, MD (D-California) said it would create an estimated 1,060 new resident physician slots, making it the largest program expansion in two decades.

“Primary care physicians are the cornerstone of our nation’s health care system,” Pallone, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking member, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, we are facing a shortage of primary care doctors, especially in underserved communities,” Pallone said. “The DOC Act will help address this shortage and establish a reliable pathway for medical students to pursue their education. It will provide permanent, reliable funding to train primary care physicians for generations to come.”

The bill would increase funding for THCGME from $277 million in fiscal year 2024 to $582 million in fiscal year 2033. The current funding is $126.5 million a year, and that is set to expire in September, according to the congressmen.

In New Mexico, 53% of hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages, Vasquez said. Ruiz described growing up and practicing medicine in a rural, medically underserved community. Most THCGME training sites are in medically underserved areas and most patients are covered by Medicaid.

The representatives said the bill already has support of the American Association of Teaching Health Centers, National Association of Community Health Centers, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, Council of Academic Family Medicine, the American Osteopathic Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society of General Internal Medicine.

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