Addressing the shortage of primary care providers (Sen. Maria Cantwell)

The debate about health care is gaining momentum, yet the central focus has been coverage for the uninsured.  Guaranteeing access to quality, affordable coverage for every American is crucial, but the conversation can’t stop with expanding access to insurance.  America is already facing a critical shortage in primary care providers.  Unless we fix this problem, we will not even have the workforce needed to care for those who are already insured.

According to a report issued by the American College of Physicians, “primary care, the backbone of the nation's health care system, is at grave risk of collapse.”  The report predicts that by 2020 the nation will need at least 40 percent more primary physicians.  Additionally, studies by the Center for Evaluative Clinical Sciences at Dartmouth and the Commonwealth Fund have shown populations with access to primary care physicians boast lower overall costs, as well as improved health outcomes.

To combat this critical shortage, I’ve introduced the Preserving Patient Access to Primary Care Act, co-sponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).  The legislation would establish scholarships and loan forgiveness for medical students committing to primary care service in critical shortage areas, create grants for medical school mentorship programs and primary care training in community health centers, and enact Medicare payment reforms that support primary care providers and patients, including the creation of Patient Centered Medical Homes.  This is a companion bill to legislation proposed in the House by Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA).

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