HHS should work diligently to ensure there are enough healthcare providers, particularly rural and primary-care doctors, to meet the country's needs, according to a recent report (PDF) from the Government Accountability Office.
HHS lacks coordination among its 72 workforce programs and oversight to set goals and work toward meeting them, according to the report.
HHS agreed with the findings but blamed those issues on a lack of funding.
The National Health Care Workforce Commission was established by the Affordable Care Act. Republicans in Congress who oppose the ACA have not allowed the allocation of the $3 million to fund the commission, however, so it has never met.
“This commission would enhance the department's formal, continuous, comprehensive and coordinated planning approach to guiding its healthcare workforce development programs,” HHS wrote in comments on the report. “The commission would assist HHS in meeting national health workforce needs and to further strengthen the healthcare system across the nation.”
HHS has also proposed legislation to update residency training with a program to award grants that help create new residency slots with a focus on community-based ambulatory care. This would increase the number of providers available in underserved areas, according to HHS. Congress has not acted to implement the program.
The report recommends HHS develop a planning approach that includes performance measures and evaluate the gaps between its programs and what providers are needed in what areas.
HHS said it intends to gather an interagency group to develop a formal planning approach to its workforce efforts and identify gaps.
The Association of American Medical Colleges warned in March that the U.S. could see a shortage of 90,000 physicians by 2025. An aging population and the likelihood of more people having insurance because of the ACA will create a need that grows more quickly than the current system for training can accommodate, according to their report.
Others have argued that more efficient use of technology and more midlevel providers like physician assistants and nurse practitioners will result in little or no shortage problem.