Monday, February 4, 2013

Invisible health panel could help Ky., if it had money and met

A panel charged with helping devise solutions to the nation’s health-care workforce crisis, which includes ensuring rural areas have enough health-care providers, is having a workforce crisis of its own: It hasn’t been funded, and it’s never met, writes Kyle Cheney of Politico. 

The National Health Care Workforce Commission was created by Congress nearly three years ago under the Affordable Care Act, the panelists were appointed, but that’s about it. The lack of action was noted at a hearing Tuesday of a subcommittee of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, convened by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging.

Sanders issued a report estimating that 57 million Americans lack ready access to primary care. Since  millions are expected to gain coverage when the reform law goes into full effect next year, there is a looming concern over whether there are enough doctors, physicians' assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses and so on. Most of the worry relates to the lack of primary-care providers in underserved areas, which could be a huge problem for Kentucky.

In addition to exploring the health workforce needs in rural and “medically underserved” settings, the commission was supposed to address the capacity of the nursing workforce, graduate medical education policies, education and loan programs for health-care professionals and the “mental and behavioral health care workforce capacity,” writes Cheney.

Since the 15-member panel was appointed in September 2010 by the U.S. comptroller general, 10 members’ terms have expired, and they’ve been reappointed for another three years each, Cheney reports. No funding has been approved, although both Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama have proposed $3 million funding packages.

“In order for the promise of expanded coverage passed into law by ACA to become a reality, the provisions designed to reach those goals must be fully funded and implemented,” Sanders said. “We need to make sure that our health care system has the infrastructure in place to provide the care necessary to prevent diseases and improve the health of all Americans.” (Read more)

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