The Primary Care Workforce Access Improvement Act: My Perspective

Dec 15, 2011
Health Care

Guest Post by Dr. Karen Summar, Joseph P. Kennedy Foundaton Public Policy Fellow.


According to the most recent information provided by the Health Resource and Service Administration (HRSA), there is a shortage of nearly 6,000 primary care physicians in the US.  Like so many other rural areas in the country, Eastern Washington is especially hard hit.  In this area alone, there are 73 areas identified as having a health professional shortage for primary care.  Four counties have fewer than 10 primary care physicians per 10,000 people and one county has zero primary care physicians.  This is significantly less than the national average of 25 primary care doctors per 10,000 people.  This shortage of primary care physicians has led to limited access to medical care and long waits for services.


Many different factors have contributed to this shortage.  Fewer medical students go into primary care than in previous times.  Practicing primary care physicians are aging, with an estimated one third planning to retire in the next ten years. There is evidence to suggest that traditional Graduate Medical Education (GME) model is not getting the job done for primary care.


Congressmen Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) have led a bipartisan effort to introduce legislation to help remedy this problem.  The “Primary Care Workforce Access Improvement Act” explores innovative ways to promote the training of primary care doctors in rural communities by allocating a portion of GME funding toward the funding of a pilot project.


Under this bill, four community-based medical education models that focus on training primary care physicians will be funded.  The funding will be allocated from the current GME budget and therefore is budget neutral.  The trial period for this pilot program is five years.


Spiraling healthcare costs and decreasing numbers of primary care physicians have placed us at critical crossroads and we need a new compass to navigate these waters. The “Primary Care Workforce Access Improvement Act” is an important part of the solution to these challenging problems.

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