The AAFP has launched a targeted campaign to block any attempts to cut or eliminate funding for graduate medical education, or GME, primary care programs by issuing two Speak Out Action Alerts during the past two weeks and by asking its so-called key contact members to phone their representatives in Washington to voice their opposition to cuts in primary care GME funding.
Obama administration officials and House and Senate leaders are considering proposals that would reduce and possibly eliminate GME funding as part of a deficit-reduction plan. This threat to primary care training programs prompted swift action from the AAFP, which sent a Speak Out request to 30,000 AAFP members living in the districts or states of congressional legislators who serve on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
The AAFP sent a similar request to members of its Connect for Family Medicine grass-roots program. In addition, the Academy urged AAFP key contact members to follow up with phone calls to their congressional representatives. As a result, more than 550 AAFP members have contacted their legislators, deluging House and Senate offices with approximately 970 messages and registering the AAFP's strong opposition to any proposal that would cut or eliminate GME funding for primary care. (Editor's Note: Connect for Reform's successor, Connect for Family Medicine, was discontinued in May 2013.)
"Family medicine residency programs rely on GME funding more significantly now because so many are located outside of academic centers in community teaching hospitals," said AAFP President Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., of Waco, Texas. If significant cuts occur, programs in these community teaching hospitals don't have the option of transferring the cost of residency programs that academic centers might have, he noted.
The AAFP recommends that any reductions in GME payments be structured to preserve primary care training programs, said Goertz. However, if federal funding is not maintained, reductions in residency slots or the closing of primary care residency programs, which have been predicted for years, become a reality, he added.
According to the AAFP's Speak Out alert, lawmakers are still rethinking Medicare's GME funding. But, "At this critical time, they should be reminded of primary care's importance," says the AAFP. "Our representatives have an opportunity to change this program so that it encourages the innovations in primary care training that will help build a workforce our communities can count on. If you haven't already, please join us as we remind those on Capitol Hill not only how important primary care is to our communities, but how it is an investment in cost restraint."
Goertz, meanwhile, vowed to continue fighting for family medicine residency programs and GME funding. "All members, indeed all family physicians, and the entire public have a stake in making sure the production of well-trained family physicians is adequate to care for America," he said. "This is needed in order to ensure access and quality and to maintain a reasonable cost of our health care enterprise."