Health Care Reform

REPORT: Closing the Health Care Workforce Gap

WASHINGTON, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 14, 2010.  With the health care reform proposals currently moving through Congress expected to provide health coverage for over 30 million additional Americans, one aspect of health care reform that deserves further examination is how reform will affect the health care workforce. Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report, “Closing the Health Care Workforce Gap,” in which co-authors Ellen-Marie Whelan and Daniel J. Derksen provide several recommendations to alleviate current and future workforce shortage problems in the health care industry, and discuss how the reform measures currently moving through Congress reflect these recommendations.

Our nation already suffers from shortages of a range of health professionals, made worse by geographic maldistribution. The shortages are expected to worsen as 78 million baby boomers begin to hit retirement age in 2011 and require more care for chronic illnesses, and many predict there will be a shortage of up to 200,000 physicians and 1 million nurses by 2020.

The nation currently invests in training health professionals in two general categories. The first and largest is $12 billion each year in Medicare and Medicaid funding for physician residency programs at teaching hospitals. The second category is a combination of health workforce programs administered by the Health Services Resource Administration, or HRSA – last year funded at just over $500 million. The cornerstone of an efficient, high-quality, accessible health system is primary care and the nation’s investment in health professionals needs to reflect this priority.

Both health reform bills being considered by Congress include provisions to address the current workforce shortage and implement strategies to help ensure we have enough health professionals in place to serve the newly insured. The report outlines nine key recommendations— recommendations that should be included in any health reform package—that will go a long way in reforming the nation’s health care workforce:

Realign federal spending to better address workforce needs by:

• Creating a National Health Care Workforce Commission

• Changing Medicare funding to support graduate nursing education

• Reforming Medicare and Medicaid payments to better reward primary care

Support health workforce training in high-needs specialties by:

• Increasing funding of the National Health Service Corps

• Targeting shortage areas and those who serve underserved communities

• Increasing funding to promote workforce diversity

Reform the training of health professionals by:

• Allowing federal funding of physician training to include community-based sites

• Providing new funding for community-based physician training

• Changing the content of health professional training

Read the full report (pdf)

Download the executive summary (pdf)