The deep political division between the so-called "blue" and "red" states may extend to how Democrats and Republicans view teaching hospitals, according to a new survey from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
In a national study featuring a Web-based sampling of more than 150 congressional staff members, the AAMC found that about 72% of Democratic staffers favored increased funding for teaching hospitals while approximately 82% of their GOP colleagues said they believed Congress should either decrease the appropriations for the facilities or maintain the status quo.
The AAMC is working hard to illustrate the value of teaching hospitals to these individuals, including many who represent rural, nonurban areas without medical schools or teaching hospitals, said Executive Vice President Richard Knapp. "We've got work to do," he said. "Maybe 70% of (the AAMC) membership is from urban areas. So, if you've reached the conclusion there's a rural-urban split, there might be. The way we have to battle that is to show the value and make those people familiar with what we have to offer."
With the GOP in control of the White House and Congress, the AAMC must be aggressive and persuasive in its continuing efforts on Capitol Hill to plead the case for more funding, Knapp said.
"The results (of the survey) didn't surprise me, but they do concern me," he said. "We just have to do a better job of making sure that everybody on the Republican side knows who we are and what we contribute."
Teaching hospitals also could face the political impact of a recent report that showed many patients receive the same quality of care at a community hospital even though costs at academic medical centers can run up to 19% higher. Still, the AAMC's report found strong support overall for increased funding for the National Institutes of Health, whose budget has more than doubled in the last five years, to $27 billion from $13 billion. About 85% of that money is awarded as grants to researchers at medical schools and teaching hospitals, AAMC officials said. About six out of 10 congressional staffers and voters favored 5% budget increases for the NIH over the next five years.
Since the heady days of double-digit increases in the NIH budget, Congress has tightened its belt and authorized a comparatively modest 2.1% increase for the 2005 fiscal year, said Dave Moore, the AAMC's senior associate vice president for governmental relations. That's less than the inflation rate but still represents an increase of about $500 million, he noted. But Medicare Indirect Medical Education payments, used to help pay the costs of training doctors at more than 1,100 teaching hospitals, will fall by about $162 million this year and are expected to drop by approximately $1.9 billion under current projections over the next five years, AAMC officials said.
The AAMC's study, which also included four focus groups and a national telephone poll of more than 800 registered voters, charted opinions on everything from the quality of care at teaching hospitals to future funding for medical schools and their teaching affiliates.