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Sebelius Says Primary Care Industry Needs More Workers

Friday February 4, 2011
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The nation’s leading health official says one of the benefits of healthcare reform is the boost it can give to the primary care work force in the United States.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said primary care professionals are in short supply. Sebelius made the comments during a Jan. 27 roundtable with four healthcare media outlets, including Nurse.com.

“There’s no question we need certainly more primary care physicians,” Sebelius said. “We need more nurse practitioners and registered nurses. We need additional gerontologists and mental health professionals, and a host of community health workers who can actually be very effective in the strategies of intervening at a much earlier stage, treating people early, avoiding that acute-care situation.”

The Affordable Care Act, which became law in March 2010 but currently is under challenge in the federal court system, includes funding to train about 16,000 additional primary care providers in the next five years, Sebelius said.

She added that the ACA also doubles the number of practitioners in the Health Service Corps, in which caregivers practice in an underserved area in exchange for scholarships and help with practitioner loans.

“It’s not just medical providers, but it really is community health workers and others who can be effective in a medical home model,” Sebelius said. “[For] people who have been dismissed from the hospital, for instance — making sure that they’re filling their prescriptions, taking their medications. That often can be a very effective strategy.”

Along with ramping up the primary care work force, the ACA could improve patients’ access to preventive care.

For “any health plan that is new and offered after Jan. 1 of this year, and for all Medicare beneficiaries, no longer will there be any co-pays for a whole variety of preventive care,” Sebelius said. “Whether that’s a mammogram at a cancer screening or a flu shot for kids, or an updated pediatric visit, those need to be encouraged. The goal really is to take down what may be a financial barrier for some to actually access preventive services.

“Right now we spend 75 cents of every health dollar dealing with chronic disease, much of which is preventable. The goal really is to shift to a health-and-wellness system and away from an acute-care system. We do acute care very well in this country.”

To view the roundtable in its entirety, visit www.Nurse.com/stateoftheunion.

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