For a Congress that failed to support U.S. primary care and protect family medicine patients in its December budget deal, there's no time like the present -- or like an upcoming National Resident Matching Program deadline -- to take up unfinished business.
That was the stern message the Academy handed House and Senate leaders in a Feb. 10 letter(2 page PDF) lobbying for long-term funding for the crucial Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program.
"The AAFP calls on Congress to immediately pass legislation … that would reauthorize and fund the Community Health Center, Teaching Health Center and National Health Service Corps programs," said the letter, which was signed by Board Chair John Cullen, M.D., of Valdez, Alaska.
The correspondence ushered in a new AAFP Speakout campaign,(www.votervoice.net) through which Academy members can add their voices to stress the urgency of the Academy's message.
The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
"We urge you to prioritize passage of the health extender policies and not wait until May to take action," the letter added, referring to the May 22 funding deadline that Congress set in December during negotiation toward a $1.4 trillion spending package.
In a separate letter(2 page PDF) to the same legislators, dated Feb. 11, 49 of the Academy's state chapters joined the call for immediate reauthorization of full THCGME funding.
"Your positive action in the next few weeks will create stability in these important programs and avoid any further disruptions caused by lingering uncertainties associated with future program funding," the Academy's latest letter said.
Among the disruptions already looming: the Feb. 26 deadline for medical school resident applicants to submit their rank order lists to the National Resident Matching Program Main Residency Match. Future physicians making a pivotal career decision must now weigh the historic success of the THCGME program against the possibility that centers challenged by short-term funding patches could close.
The benefits of the program are not in doubt. As the Academy told Congress in a Sept. 12 letter,(2 page PDF) it "has successfully trained over 1,000 primary care physicians and dentists who, in return, have established practices and provided high-quality care to millions of Americans."
"Failure to act in a timely manner only further impacts these programs, which results in decreased access to primary care for millions of people," the Academy said in its Feb. 10 letter. "We look forward to working with you and your colleagues to ensure a long-term solution is acted upon well before the May deadline."