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Obama Budget Would Improve Access to Health Care for Underserved Populations

As health reform enables millions of uninsured Americans to gain health insurance, the need for preventive and primary care services and those who provide them will continue to grow.  The President’s 2015 budget includes a new initiative to strengthen the health workforce — particularly for underserved areas and populations with shortages of providers — and ensure adequate payments for primary care physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners who see Medicaid patients.  It deserves Congress’ approval.

The initiative would:

  • Expand the National Health Service Corps, which boosts the number of health care providers in high-need communities through scholarships and other kinds of support.  The program would receive an extra $4 billion over fiscal years 2015 through 2020, allowing it to support 15,000 providers (up from the current 9,000) delivering care to more than 16 million people.
  • Provide $5.2 billion over ten years for a new competitive grant program for medical residency positions that would encourage primary care physicians to practice in rural and other underserved areas.
  • Continue Medicaid’s enhanced payment rate for primary care services, scheduled to end on December 31, 2014, through December 2015, at a total cost of $5.4 billion.  This provision requires states to pay providers at the Medicare rate; the federal government covers 100 percent of the boost from the state’s regular Medicaid rate. The President’s budget also would extend the enhanced Medicaid rate beyond primary care physicians to include physician assistants and nurse practitioners.