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HHS invests $183.4M in support of primary, community care

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

This week is shaping up to be a financially significant one for the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The agency is shelling out more than $180 million in Affordable Care Act (ACA) funding to support the training of new primary care providers and improve access to primary care through community health centers.

First, primary care residency programs in 60 teaching health centers in the United States will receive a portion of $83.4 million in ACA funding to train more than 550 residents between 2014 and 2015, surpassing the previous year’s number of residents by two and half times.

“The Affordable Care Act supports the training of new primary care physicians through the Teaching Health Center program,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a public statement Monday. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the continued growth of this program to help prepare even more physicians to provide primary care in communities across the country.”

The ACA contains a provision called the Teaching Health Center Program with the purpose of ensuring the availability of primary care providers to patients across the country. The number of centers will increase from 21 to 24 as result of the new funds.

Provider organizations such as the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and American Medical Association (AMA) have called on Congress to increase the number of federally-supported residency training positions in order to combat a nationwide primary care physician shortage. It appears the federal government (at least the Executive Branch) has heard their message.

Second, HHS is making $100 million available to develop and operate approximately 150 new health center sites by 2015 with the intention of improving patient access to high-quality and affordable healthcare services in medically-underserved areas of the US.

“In communities across the country, Americans turn to their local Community Health Center for vital health care services that help them lead healthy, productive lives,” Secretary Burwell explained earlier today. “That’s why it’s so important that the Affordable Care Act is supporting the expansion of health centers.”

All told, the support for these new health centers will take the number of health centers open in the past three years to over 700. As of today, an estimated 1,300 health centers provide care to more than 21 million patients at roughly 9,200 services states in the US and its territories.

In related news, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), a division of HHS, announced yesterday the launch of the EHR Innovations for Improving Hypertension Challenge. That project aims to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017 through EHR and health IT adoption and use. As the National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, noted in her comments, heart disease and stroke are the two leading causes of death in the US.

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