Window to Washington

An inside-the-beltway look at the legislative and regulatory process.

ACA wrangling stalls healthcare workforce panel

By Rich Daly
10:15 am, Jul. 17

With much of the national attention focused on the largest moving parts of the 2010 federal healthcare overhaul, it's easy for the numerous smaller provisions to get lost in the shuffle. But the ongoing political battle over the fate of the law also has affected those initiatives.

One such small part of the 2,700-page law but big to providers was the new National Health Care Workforce Commission.

The first federally appointed advisory body fully focused on the healthcare workforce had its inaugural 15 members appointed by the comptroller general last year. But nothing else has happened with the group since then because Congress never approved any operational funds for it.

“Someone has got to pay attention to the workforce, and the one opportunity we had for a public servant oversight commission like (the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission) and Congress has taken a bye on it,” said Dr. Sheldon Retchin, CEO of Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and the vice chair of the commission.

The funding for staff and operations of the commission has been blocked by Republican members of Congress as part of their efforts to cut off implementation of the overall healthcare law, not because of any specific opposition to the commission.

“Congressmen on both sides of the aisle, to their credit, say 'Gee, that was a good idea. Too bad it's part of the (Affordable Care Act),'” Retchin told me recently about his ongoing efforts to get funding for the new body. “So we're stuck at go.”

Without operational funding, the group is barred by law from even informally meeting or talking to each other individually.

Retchin's hope is that unlike many of other high-profile provisions of the law, the commission's bipartisan appeal will allow it to eventually navigate the shoals of the congressional funding process after the November presidential and congressional contests.

“The only thing I could see is once the election is over, no matter who is in the White House, somebody will pay attention,” he said. “Even absent the expanded healthcare coverage, we have major workforce issues.”

Follow Rich Daly on Twitter @MHRDaly.


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