The Obama administration will announce Monday as much as $1 billion in funding to hire, train and deploy health-care workers, part of the White House’s broader “We Can’t Wait” agenda to bolster the economy after President Obama’s jobs bill stalled in Congress.
Grants can go to doctors, community groups, local government and other organizations that work with patients in federal health-care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The funds are for experimenting with different ways to expand the health-care workforce while reducing the cost of delivering care. There will be an emphasis on speed, with new programs expected to be running within six months of funding.
“This will open the inbox for many innovators and organizations that have an idea to bring to the table,” Don Berwick, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in an interview. “We’re seeking innovators, organizations and leaders that have an idea to bring into further testing.”
Health-care employment is growing steadily, with more than 300,000 jobs added in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It has been one bright spot in the economy as unemployment has hovered around 9 percent. The bureau projects total employment in health care to grow by 3.2 million jobs by 2018, more than in any other sector.
At the same time, the country faces a doctor shortage. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects that the United States will have 63,000 fewer doctors than it needs by 2015. That shortage will grow to 130,600 doctors by 2025.
The need for a larger health-care workforce will probably become particularly acute in 2014, when the health-care overhaul is expected to expand health insurance coverage to millions of Americans. By 2019, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects, 32 million more Americans will have gained health insurance coverage.
That has left federal agencies looking to alternative ways to deliver care, ones that may rely more on community-based care and less on trips to the doctor’s office. Under this new program, organizations may be able to explore how community workers, volunteers, pharmacy techs or clinic managers could play a larger role in the health-care workforce.
“We have a wealth of good ideas in health care, but the big challenge is spread,” Berwick said. “This will be seed money to get innovation to go further. This is venture capital to grow good ideas to scale.”
“In many ways, the health-care system in the future will be different from the health-care system today,” said Richard Gilfillan, acting director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. “We’re saying, let’s find the best people to do these jobs and broaden the workforce.”