The House bill that would repeal Medicare's sustainable-growth rate formula for paying physicians would also keep alive a popular graduate medical education program for at least two more years.
The federal Teaching Health Center program was created with a $230 million appropriation in the Affordable Care Act and is helping to train 550 residents at 60 medically underserved locations in 27 states and the District of Columbia. The program, however, will expire Sept. 30 without additional funding.
The repeal bill the House passed Thursday, known as the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, includes $60 million for the program in both fiscal 2016 and 2017.
“It costs $132 million annually to run the program, so the amounts in the bill are less than half of what's needed,” said Cristine Serrano, executive director of the American Association of Teaching Health Centers. “But it will allow us to fight another day and stay alive until we're able to find a more permanent solution.”
The residency slots the money will support are three-year positions. So, in addition to not fully funding existing programs, it will be leaving programs digging to find money to pay for the last year of their residents' training.
“In order to recruit next year, we'll have to get funding for the third year,” Serrano said. “There are programs that are just shutting down.”
One such program is run by the Clinica Sierra Vista in Fresno, Calif., Serrano said. She added that she used to work for the Northwestern University-affiliated Erie Family Health Center in Chicago's Humboldt Park Puerto Rican enclave. That teaching health center program is cutting back from eight residents to six this July, according to Serrano.
Congressional interest in the program was heightened after a policy research brief was released by George Washington University's Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative showing the program's early success, Serrano said.