Cantwell Says $250M to Strengthen Primary Care Workforce Will Help Washington State

HHS funds will address critical workforce shortage

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell said that the Department of Health and Human Services’ allocation of $250 million to strengthen and grow the primary care workforce will train 16,000 new primary care providers over the next five years.  The funding comes from the new health care legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148).


“These investments will boost our primary care workforce, ensuring Americans have better access to high quality, preventative health care,” said Senator Cantwell.  “Putting strong primary care provisions into the health care reform bill was a top priority of mine because research has shown that patients get better health outcomes and have lower overall costs when they have a primary care provider who coordinates all their health care needs.  This investment marks a significant step towards reducing Washington state’s primary care physician shortage.”


Nationwide, there is a critical shortage of primary care physicians, with the Association of American Medical Colleges estimating the nation would have a shortage of approximately 21,000 primary care clinicians in 2015. Washington state leads the nation in training primary care physicians but still suffers shortages, particularly in Eastern Washington.  By 2025, eastern Washington will have a shortage of about 640 doctors if current patterns continue.  To solve this, Cantwell supported an expansion of the partnership between Washington State University and the University of Washington School of Medicine in Spokane.  Currently, the University of Washington has the highest percent of graduates – about 50 percent – choosing to go into primary care. 


The health care legislation included a Cantwell-authored provision to expand the number of medical students pursuing careers as primary care physicians, by providing incentives such as increased financial assistance for medical students.  Cantwell also fought for a provision that will redistribute roughly 500 primary care residency slots to underserved areas, beginning in July 2011. Washington state currently fills its 600 total primary care residency slots at 13 programs across the state. Four of Washington’s programs would be eligible to expand under the new provision Cantwell championed: Richland-Kaldec Hospital (serving Richland, Kennewick), Central Washington Family Medicine residency program (serving Ellensburg), Goldendale and Colville Clinics (serving Spokane), and Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinics (serving Yakima).