The Council on Graduate Medical Education, created almost two decades ago to track physician workforce trends, has lost its federal funding and will cease to exist on the last day of September.
Officials said the elimination of the government advisory council could deal a serious blow to national efforts to objectively assess how many and what kinds of doctors are needed to cope with long-term healthcare needs in a nation faced with an onslaught of aging baby boomers. Created in 1986, COGME is the only neutral organization dealing with this overall issue, said Carl Getto, council chairman and senior vice president of medical staff affairs at the University of Wisconsin Hospital & Clinics in Madison.
"I think the kinds of discussion that we had on workforce issues will no longer happen," Getto said. "I think the government and the public will be hurt by that. Unless we somehow receive additional funding, we end operations."
The advisory council, which is part of HHS' Bureau of Health Professions, will bow out just weeks after delivering its final report, Physician Workforce Policy Guidelines for the U.S. for 2000-2020. That report, endorsed by COGME at its meeting in July, warns of a significant shortage of physicians over the next 15 years and calls for an increase of 24,000 to 27,000 new physicians entering the workforce and expansion of U.S. medical school enrollment by 15% over the next decade.
Kerry Nesseler, the bureau's associate administrator for health professions, said her office is reviewing the report before presenting it to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and members of Congress. Nesseler is not holding out much hope that the federal government will allocate the money, about $330,000 per year, to breathe new life into the advisory council.
Getto said the advisory council, which met only about four or five times a year, has already been reauthorized by Congress at least twice past the date its charter was scheduled to expire. In addition to workforce issues, the council also focused on the improvement of graduate medical education.
"When you talk about physician workforce issues and training of physicians, there's usually a lot of yawns," Getto said. "What we do is not something that generates a lot of attention until there's a problem."
He said the key issues addressed by the council will either be ignored for the most part or pursued by groups that aren't as objective as an appointed government advisory council like COGME.
"As a forum, (COGME) served a valuable role," said Michael Whitcomb, senior vice president of medical education at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington. "It's the position of the (AAMC) and most people that if COGME is not reauthorized, and it looks like it will not be, there needs to be created some sort of forum where these discussions can go on."