Obama administration awards $55 million to boost health-care workforce

December 6, 2013
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The Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $55.5 million in grants to help bolster a health-care workforce that is stretched thin and possibly due for more strain under the Affordable Care Act.

The health legislation, known as Obamacare, requires the uninsured to obtain medical coverage, potentially placing more stress on the nation’s health-care network.

In a statement on Thursday, HHS said the new round of funding would grow the size of the medical workforce in “a wide spectrum” of fields.

“From diversity to dentistry, all are critical to achieving a skilled workforce now and in the future,” said Mary Wakefield, administrator for the department’s Health Resources and Services Administration.

(Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg)
(Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg)

About 82 percent of the money will go toward nursing to provide low-interest educational loans, pay for advanced training and encourage racial and ethnic minorities to enter the profession.

A smaller portion of the funding will help address dental-workforce needs, support residency programs in the field of preventive medicine and train doctoral-level psychologists, among other forms of assistance.

Experts concur that the medical workforce is strained, but not all agree about whether Obamacare will exacerbate the problem.

The Global Institute of Emerging Healthcare Practices said in a report this year that “most studies before passage of the Affordable Care Act projected shortages of at least 124,000 physicians and 500,000 nurses by 2025.” Similarly, an analysis from the Association of American estimated a shortfall of 90,000 doctors within 10 years.

Both groups said the health law will place more pressure on the medical workforce. But other experts have argued against the notion that the Affordable Care Act requires drastic growth in the number of doctors.

Scott Gottlieb and Ezekiel Emanuel, who were senior health officials with the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, respectively, said in a New York Times editorial last month that expanding the scope of services allowed from non-physician health-care professionals — such as nurses and dieticians — could reduce the need for growth in the medical workforce.

“Instead of building more medical schools and expanding our doctor pool, we should focus on increasing the productivity of existing physicians and other healthcare workers,” the editorial said.

The Health and Human Services grants will help train existing medical staff so they can expand their roles, falling in line with the recommendations from Gottlieb and Emanuel,who are both physicians themselves.

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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