Cantwell Health Care Law Provisions to Help Solve Eastern Washington Doctor Shortage

Four Eastern WA residency programs could expand

SPOKANE, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) discussed how her primary care provisions included in the new health care law will help solve the expected shortage of primary care physicians  in eastern Washington. Speaking at a press conference at Washington State University’s Riverpoint Campus Health Sciences Building, Cantwell discussed how her provisions will enable Washington state to retain and recruit more primary care doctors, especially in eastern Washington where severe shortages exist. By 2025, eastern Washington will have a shortage of about 640 doctors if current patterns continue.
“The new health care law will provide more doctors throughout Eastern Washington making the region a hub for training the next generation of medical professionals,” Senator Cantwell said today at a press conference in Spokane. “Primary care doctors are critical to controlling costs and improving health care, but they are in short supply, especially in this part of the state. Provisions that I wrote into the health care law address this problem head-on. Spokane can take advantage by expanding its medical education programs to address the physician shortage. Educating more doctors right here in eastern Washington means more doctors for our rural and underserved areas, ensuring the full benefits of the health care law can be realized.”
Cantwell’s provisions include measures to expand the number of medical students pursuing careers as primary care physicians, for example by providing increased financial assistance for medical students. Cantwell also authored a new “value-based index” that reforms the nation’s Medicare doctor reimbursement model. The measure replaces the current system that rewards practitioners for ordering often redundant or unnecessary tests and procedures, contributing to an estimated $120 billion per year in wasted spending. The value-based index will particularly benefit Washington state Medicare patients and providers by ending Medicare’s practice of paying more to high-cost states. As a result, patients in Washington will have greater access to quality care.
Cantwell also fought for a provision that will redistribute roughly 800 primary care residency slots to underserved areas, beginning in July 2011. Washington state currently fills its 464 total primary care residency slots at 12 programs across the state. Four of Washington’s programs would be eligible to expand under the new provision Cantwell championed: Richland-Kennewick, Ellensburg-Central Washington Family Medicine residency program, Spokane-Goldendale and Colville Clinics, and Yakima-Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinics.
Additionally, Senator Cantwell expressed her support for an expansion of the 37-year-old partnership between Washington State University and the University of Washington School of Medicine in Spokane. Currently, Washington state produces the second-lowest count of medical school graduates per capita among all states, and the lowest count in the Pacific Northwest. Only 40 new medical students per year are trained in eastern Washington, half in Spokane, half in Pullman. Eastern Washington imports more than 80 percent of its physicians from other states and countries. The University of Washington (UW) has been ranked the number one primary care medical school for at least 15 straight years by US News and World Report. About 50 percent of UW graduates elect to go into primary care, the highest of any medical school in the country.