Pallone to introduce bill funding medical education at children's hospitals

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) on Thursday announced his intention to introduce legislation that funds training for resident pediatricians at children's hospitals.

The Obama administration's proposed budget for 2012 would eliminate the $300 million annual appropriation that funds graduate medical education programs that train resident pediatricians. The budget would replace the program with "targeted investments to increase the primary care workforce."

Pallone, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee, announced his "disappointment" with the proposed cut during a hearing Thursday on the 2012 budget.

"Eliminating this program would have a major negative impact on access to primary care, and impact access to specialty care for children," Pallone told Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the sole witness. "I'm committed to reauthorizing and funding this program and will introduce a bill to do that soon."

Pallone said the administration's proposal to focus instead on primary care training seems to make little sense because of the dearth of subspecialists in pediatrics, many of whom are trained through children's hospitals.

"We actually need more subspecialists," he said.

Sebelius said the cut was forced by the growing deficit.

"Your concern about this program we have heard from a number of people," she said. "Any other budget time this would not have been one of the recommendations ... This trade-off is very difficult."

The National Association of Children's Hospitals slammed the cut last month, saying it would have a "dramatic negative effect on the pediatric workforce pipeline at a time when children's timely access to pediatric care is already impaired."