Universal insurance coverage wont be enough to solve the problems created by a primary-care provider shortage thats being exacerbated by a maldistribution of those providers, according to a new study by the National Association of Community Health Centers titled Access Transformed: Building a Primary Care Workforce for the 21st Century. These problems include some 56 million medically disenfranchised Americans who have no regular doctor, according to the association.
The report, which was produced by the association with the American Academy of Family Physicians Robert Graham Center for policy studies in family medicine and primary care and researchers at George Washington University, recommends using the federal community health-centers program as an anchor in communities unable to attract or sustain healthcare providers. It also calls for a boost in funding for programs such as the National Health Service Corps, which provides scholarships or helps providers repay education loans in exchange for a commitment to practice primary care in underserved areas.
At a news conference unveiling the report, Gary Wiltz, the executive director of the Teche Action Board in Franklin, La., noted that there are seven applicants for every National Health Service scholarship offered and thatdespite the popularity and success of the programits funding continues to be reduced.
According to Wiltz, who said he was in the 26th year of his three-year commitment to serve Louisianas bayou country, 2009 funding for the National Health Service Corps has dropped to $121 million from $123 million this year and from $169.9 million in 2004. With medical students specialty and location decisions being driven by the need to pay off between $250,000 and $300,000 of debt, he said programs that persuade students to boldly go where no one wants to go are vital to the nations healthcare infrastructure. -- by Andis Robeznieks
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