Invest in the Future of High Quality Primary Care, AAFP Tells Congressional Appropriators

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
Friday, April 15, 2016

Contact:
Leslie Champlin
Senior Public Relations Strategist
American Academy of Family Physicians
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 6252
lchampli@aafp.org

LEAWOOD, Kan. — In the face of a looming shortage of primary medical care, the American Academy of Family Physicians today called on Congress to support three federal programs that help ensure Americans have access to the care they need.

The call came in written testimony submitted to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies by AAFP Board Chair Robert Wergin, MD.

He urged the legislators to appropriate:

  • $364 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality;
  • $59 million for the Health Professions Primary Care Training and Enhancement program under Title VII, Section 747, administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration; and
  • An additional $70 million for the National Health Service Corps.

The funding, Wergin said, is instrumental in supporting primary care medical education, encouraging medical students to go into primary care and ensuring patients receive the most appropriate care.

AHRQ is the only agency that researches clinical decision making, as well as ways to reduce costs, advance patient safety and decrease medical errors. As the health system transitions to value-based payment, federal support of research into best practices for providing primary care is critical, according to Wergin.

“Without AHRQ research, too little is known about appropriate care for real patients in primary care practices,” Wergin said in written testimony to the subcommittee. Already, funding cuts in the current fiscal year have “harmed the AHRQ’s efforts to research the care of those with multiple chronic conditions. The agency’s research initiative aimed at optimizing care for patients with multiple chronic conditions halted this year due to lack of funds.”

As a result, the medical community has inadequate information about the most effective treatment of a patient population that is expected to grow from 60 million Americans in 2000 to more than 81 million by 2020, he wrote.

Equally important, Congress must bring funding for HRSA to the $7.48 billion level appropriated six years ago. Of that, $59 million should go to the Health Professions Primary Care Training and Enhancement program. Research shows that the loss of grants from this program can cripple medical schools’ ability to graduate students going into primary care.

“Without additional funding, there will be no new grant competitions for four more years,” Wergin wrote. “For decades, these grants to medical schools and residency programs have helped increase the number of physicians who select primary care specialties and who go to work in underserved areas.”

Finally, Wergin urged the subcommittee to add $70 million -- for a total of $380 million -- for the National Health Service Corps. As a health care workforce program, NHSC addresses two major challenges: enabling students to choose primary care by reducing their student debt and distributing primary care physicians in areas of need, he wrote.

“Not only does the NHSC program place physicians and medical professionals in health professional shortage areas to meet the needs of patients in rural and medically underserved areas, it also provides scholarships as incentives for medical students to enter primary care and to provide health care to underserved Americans,” Wergin wrote.

NHSC has proven its success by placing more than 40,000 health professionals since 1972. During fiscal year 2015, nearly 9,700 NHSC health professionals cared for patients in underserved areas. “However,” Wergin wrote, “the need for primary care continues to exceed the available investment.”

 

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Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians represents 131,400 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).