House passes bill to continue to train pediatric specialists

The lynchpin in children accessing the health care they need is ensuring there are enough pediatricians and pediatric specialists who have received the highly specialized training required to successfully care for this population. In some areas, certain specialists are so scarce that it may take weeks or even months for a child to get an appointment.

Yesterday evening, the House of Representatives passed a bill that will help support the programs that train these much needed specialists. The bill, S. 1557, passed the Senate at the end of 2013 and now goes to the president for his signature to become law. The bill extends authorization for Children’s Hospitals Graduate Medical Education (CHGME) through 2018.

Training programs for doctors are very expensive for hospitals, typically costing hospitals more than $100,000 per year per doctor. Without funding to offset the costs, it is difficult for hospitals to justify the costs of training new doctors.

As the number of children in the country continues to increase, pediatric physician shortages remain, illustrating why reauthorization of CHGME is critical to ensure hospitals continue to train new pediatricians. The more than $250 million in funds provided by CHGME last year help 55 children’s hospitals train more than 6,000 resident physicians annually, approximately half of all new pediatricians and pediatric specialists.

The federal government has a two part process to allocate funding: authorization and appropriation. Authorization—like the CHGME bill that passed last night—essentially allows Congress to spend money on a program for a fixed number of years. Enactment of this bill ensures Congress is allowed to fund the CHGME program through 2018; it will not guarantee funding. The appropriations process is an annual budget process Congress uses to decide how to spend money each year.

Securing reauthorization is an important step in strengthening the future of CHGME and sends a clear signal of strong bipartisan support in Washington for the work of children’s hospitals. However, every year, it is important to continue reaching out to members of Congress to encourage them to appropriate funding for CHGME to ensure that children’s teaching hospitals continue to receive the funds they need to train the next generations of pediatricians and pediatric specialists. It’s important to recognize the leadership of Reps. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the lead sponsors of CHGME reauthorization in their respective chambers. This critical recognition of children’s health care needs would not be possible without their leadership and commitment.

Enacted in 1999 with broad support from both Democrats and Republicans, CHGME has eased critical shortages in pediatric specialty areas and the number of residents trained by children’s hospitals has increased by 40 percent. The CHGME program has also broadened the training experiences of pediatric residents, providing more opportunities for residents to practice in underserved urban and rural areas.

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