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HHS Rolls Out $250 Million for Training Primary Care Providers

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

June 16, 2010 -- Health and Human Services (HHS) officials announced Wednesday they'll devote $250 million to training for primary care providers needed to treat Americans newly insured under the health care law and aging baby boomers.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and California Democratic Rep. Lois Capps said on a conference call with reporters that the money will go toward training additional primary care physicians, physician assistants, nurses and nurse practitioners. The nation is facing a shortage of primary care providers, Sebelius said.

"For too long our health care system hasn't valued primary care providers enough," she said. Not long ago 50 percent of medical students chose primary care, but that number has fallen dramatically, she noted.

While the numbers have been rising recently it hasn't been enough to meet the needs of the population, she said. A recent study by George Washington University researchers found that medical schools vary dramatically in their percentages of graduates who go into primary care, and some of the nation's most prestigious medical schools graduate relatively few primary care doctors.

Sebelius said President Obama decided to use half of the $500 million in the prevention and public health fund that's part of the new health care law to pay for the expanded numbers of primary care providers. Together with funds allocated as part of the 2009 economic stimulus bill, Sebelius said it's expected that the development of 16,000 new health care providers will be supported by 2015.

Capps said the prevention and public health money wasn't something that was hotly debated during congressional consideration of the law but will be critical for improving American's health, and will help answer frequently asked questions about how the law will deal with doctor shortages.

Of the $250 million, $168 million will be used for opening up slots for training 500 new primary care doctors; $32 million for training physician assistants; $30 million to help 600 nursing students go from part-time to full-time school attendance; $15 million for operating 10 nurse-managed health clinics that help train nurse practitioners; and $5 million for states to plan how to expand their primary care workforces during the next 10 years.

Officials also said the IRS is publicizing another provision in the new law that expands a tax break for providers who practice in underserved areas.

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