Politics sideline panel on healthcare workforce shortages

Congressional politics have stymied an independent commission formed to study how shortages of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers complicate the execution of healthcare reform, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Created in 2010 under the Affordable Care Act, the 15-member National Health Care Workforce Commission has never met--because Congress refused to fund it, the Times reported.

The White House  requested $3 million in commission funding for the last two budget years, but as part of the much-maligned "Obamacare" the funding has failed to win support from congressional Republicans, the newspaper reported. As a result, the commission is prohibited from meeting, or even contacting one another, commission members told the Times.

"It's a disappointing situation. The nation's healthcare workforce has many problems that are not being attended to," commission chair Peter Buerhaus, a professor of nursing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said. "These problems were apparent before healthcare reform, and they will be even more pressing after healthcare reform."

The issues the nonpartisan panel was set to address are significant, according to the newspaper, including understanding the right mix of primary-care doctors and specialists, whether nurse practitioners and physician assistants should be allowed to do more work now reserved for doctors, and whether pharmacists can play a larger role in coordinating care.

In fact, a survey of physicians released last fall indicated healthcare reform could worsen physician shortages by prompting doctors to put less time into their practices.

A survey of 13,575 practicing physicians for the Physicians Foundation, a Boston-based physician-advocacy nonprofit, found that physicians are seeing fewer patients in their practices and limiting access by Medicare and Medicaid patients. More than half said they planned to further reduce their patient load, work part-time, switch to concierge medicine, retire or otherwise reduce patient access.

To learn more:
- read the Times account