School-Based Health Alliance Officially Endorses Bill to Address School-Based Health Care Workforce

By Suzanne Mackey, Policy Analyst, School-Based Health Alliance

Congressman Sarbanes at a 2010 rally for school-based health care in Washington, DC.

Congressman Sarbanes at a 2010 rally for school-based health care in Washington, DC.

Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) reintroduced H.R. 5498, the Primary Care Physician Reentry Act, on September 16. This legislation aims to combat the nation’s shortage of primary care providers, family physicians, and pediatricians by providing training and financial assistance to physicians returning to medical practice in exchange for two years of service at a community health center, Veterans Affairs medical center, or school-based health center (SBHC). The bill would create a grant program for qualified medical training institutions, including medical schools, hospitals and nonprofit organizations, to establish or expand physician re-entry programs. The bill adopts the National Health Service Corps definition of “primary health services,” which covers family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, dentistry, or mental health.

The primary care physician shortage is an issue of increasing concern in the United States, and specifically for SBHCs. By 2025, the shortage of primary care physicians will exceed 50,000. In addition, an increasing percentage of medical students are pursuing more lucrative specialty care fields over primary care. In fact, less than 20 percent of current medical students are entering primary care. While unfortunately this bill does not address the next generation of primary care providers, it removes significant barriers in place for physicians who would like to return to clinical practice.

Physicians may leave clinical practice for a variety of reasons–to care for a young child or aging parent, or due to frustrations with private practice, such as paperwork or malpractice insurance. Those who do consider a return to practice face myriad roadblocks, including confusion and high financial cost surrounding the re-entry process, credentialing, continuing medical education, and malpractice insurance. The Primary Care Physician Reentry Demonstration Program would help remove these roadblocks, streamlining and simplifying the re-entry process and providing financial support for the required activities. In turn, school-based health centers will benefit from an increased population of primary care physicians committed to service.

The School-Based Health Alliance is proud to endorse this legislation by Congressman Sarbanes, a longtime champion of SBHCs. In 2009, we honored him with a Super Hero award for his legislative efforts in the field of school-based health care.

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