The most immediate solution to begin to address the primary care workforce shortage is to expand the National Health Service Corps. The NHSC is a scholarship and loan repayment program that was designed in 1972 to address the workforce shortage by attracting and placing primary care, dental, and mental health providers into areas of the country facing the largest shortages. More than 30,000 clinicians have served in the corps since its inception, expanding access to health services and improving the health of people who live in urban and rural areas where health care is scarce. Loans and scholarships are available to dentists, physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and certified nurse midwives. These funds will help alleviate the economic pressures that may cause medical and other primary care students not to pursue a primary care specialty.
However, funding for the NHSC dropped dramatically under the Bush administration. There were only enough funds in 2008 for 76 new scholarship awards and 867 new loan-repayment awards. Increasing funding for this program will immediately bring generalist providers to areas with the greatest primary care shortages. And those who receive a loan or scholarship are more likely to ultimately choose a career in primary care and continue working in that area.
Congress and the White House boosted funding for the NHSC earlier this year in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. A provision in ARRA more than doubled funding for this program by adding $300 million to the $135 million appropriation for FY 2009. The program is expected to serve an additional 8,108 clinicians serving almost 9 million people by the end of the year as a result of the additional ARRA funding. Congress has also identified the importance of this program and included provisions to strengthen it in the health reform legislation currently being developed and debated on Capitol Hill.
For more on this topic, please see: