March 1, 2022, 9:43 a.m. — We’re just two months into 2022, but the Academy has already notched a couple of significant advocacy wins.
First, our longtime push to fortify the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program paid a strong dividend last month when the Health Resources and Services Administration said it would spend $19.2 million of American Rescue Plan money to fund 120 full-time THCGME residents. The move will strengthen community-based residency programs for primary care and dental residents in rural and underserved areas — as the AAFP has for years worked to do. We’ve been fighting for this: a path toward a more robust workforce pipeline and improved health care for the communities most in need.
Second, Congress in late February sent the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act to President Joe Biden’s desk. It’s designed to address physicians’ mental health needs by investing in programs to protect their mental health and ending the stigma medical professionals often face when seeking necessary treatment and support. The Academy took every opportunity to call for its passage in the months since its introduction, and we’re pleased that it’s ready for a signature. We continue to lobby the CDC to study and address mental health issues and increased burnout in the medical workforce, particularly among primary care physicians.
Your patients’ behavioral health is also an important part of our advocacy right now, as I told you last time. With COVID-19 having exacerbated feelings of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder amid a shortage of behavioral health clinicians, primary care physicians have stepped into the breach. You’ve often served as the first point of contact for patients needing mental health diagnoses; but when 40% of all visits for depression, anxiety or cases defined as “any mental illness” are with primary care physicians, there’s new urgency in the Academy’s support for integrating behavioral health services into the medical home.
That’s one of the high-level messages the AAFP’s Board just delivered to influential members of Congress during our latest day of concentrated Capitol advocacy this past week. It was a full, productive slate of meetings, and I’m confident we’ll see positive results on behavioral health as well as the other two topics we brought to the table: Medicaid pay parity and telehealth policy. We’re asking lawmakers to
That sounds like a lot, but our advocacy across these areas is interwoven to support the most obvious goal: stabilizing payment for primary care practices — an outcome achievable with the actions we’ve outlined for Congress.
We’re two full years into a pandemic that has reshaped our health system’s very foundation, driving an influx of new patients (including those seeking behavioral health care) to Medicaid while that program continues to pay family physicians only a fraction of the rates paid by Medicare and private payers. At the same time, practices that have made a necessary leap into virtual care, which has been a boon to patients, need to find solid ground waiting for them on the far side.
The Academy, speaking last week through its Board members, has again unrolled a simple map for how Congress can restore strength and security to the country’s primary care practices. We’ll keep pointing the way for them as long as we have to.
Stephanie Quinn, AAFP Senior Vice President of Advocacy, Practice Advancement and Policy. Read author bio »