Letter to Congress: Preserve Mandatory Funding for Teaching Health Centers

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


LEAWOOD, Kan. — The American Academy of Family Physicians and four other family medicine education and research organizations have called on Congress to oppose H.R. 1216, a bill that would convert mandatory appropriations for teaching health centers into annual appropriations.

The call came in a letter sent to Congress by the AAFP, the Society for Teachers of Family Medicine, the Association of Departments of Family Medicine, the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors and the North American Primary Care Research.

Subjecting teaching health centers to an annual appropriations process would threaten the viability of an innovation that promises to help resolve the primary care physician workforce shortage, the organizations said.

At issue is a reliable source of graduate medical education funding for programs that train primary care physicians in the community — the location where most health care is provided — rather than in hospitals, where data show that fewer than one of every 1,000 Americans get health care.

The Affordable Care Act established mandatory funding for teaching health centers through the Health Resources Services Administration under Section 5508. Since passage of the ACA, the federal government has funded 11 centers that train family medicine residents. Establishing or expanding a family medicine residency program takes multiple years from planning to implementation to accreditation.

“If this program is to be effective, there must be adequate, predictable resources,” the AAFP letter says. “Repeal of this funding would abrogate the contract HRSA has made to them (the residency programs) to providing funding for additional residents. Converting this program to discretionary funding also will deter other entities from making business decisions necessary to expand residency training … since funding over the next few years would be subject to an annual appropriations process.”

Teaching health centers are seen as an effective approach to encouraging more medical students to become primary care physicians. The United States currently faces a shortage of more than 39,000 family physicians and 60,000 primary care physicians overall by 2020.

Research — including the May 25, 2011, Journal of the American Medical Association study into the link between primary care physicians and patient outcomes — has consistently demonstrated better quality of health care and better cost controls when a community has an adequate number of primary care physicians.

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Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide, and it is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Family physicians conduct approximately one in five of the total medical office visits in the United States per year – more than any other specialty. Family physicians provide comprehensive, evidence-based, and cost-effective care dedicated to improving the health of patients, families and communities. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing and personal patient-physician relationship where the family physician serves as the hub of each patient’s integrated care team. More Americans depend on family physicians than on any other medical specialty.

To learn more about the AAFP and family medicine, visit www.aafp.org/media. Follow us on Twitter,(twitter.com) and like us on Facebook. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website, www.familydoctor.org(familydoctor.org).