It’s hard to imagine how children can stay healthy if there aren’t enough pediatricians to take care of them. And this is precisely the issue at stake as Congress decides whether to reauthorize the Children’s Hospitals Graduate Medical Education Payment Program (CHGME) over the coming weeks. The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently passed CHGME reauthorization legislation (H.R. 1852), and its companion bill (S. 958) is due to be considered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in early September. However, CHGME’s current authorization expires on September 30 of this year, and the ultimate fate of the reauthorization effort remains very much in doubt at this point.

Putting the debate in context There was a real concern about the nation’s pediatric workforce in the late 1990s after the American Board of Pediatrics noted that the number of pediatric residents had seen a decline of more than 13 percent, and the Pediatric Education Task Force concluded that the lack of adequate federal funding for graduate medical education at independent children’s hospitals was a significant threat to maintaining an adequate number of pediatricians going forward.

To address this issue, Congress created CHGME 1999 so that independent children’s hospitals could receive federal support to train resident pediatricians and pediatric specialists similar to the support provided to adult hospitals through the Graduate Medical Education Program (GME) through Medicare. Prior to the enactment of CHGME, independent children’s hospitals were receiving only half of a percent of the federal funding provided to adult hospitals for GME as well as unstable and varying support from Medicaid.

And CHGME has worked exactly as Congress intended by increasing the number of pediatric residents and pediatric resident specialists training at independent children’s hospitals, meeting pediatric workforce development needs in geographic regions across the country, and ensuring that even children living in states without independent children’s hospitals have some access to well-trained pediatricians and pediatric specialists.

Success begets success Given CHGME’s track record of success, advocates must remain vigilant to ensure that the program is reauthorized before it expires at the end of September. This becomes even more important given the shortage of pediatric specialists in many areas of the countrydespite the impressive progress made as a result of CHGME. Advocates can play an important role in the coming weeks by weighing in with their Congressional delegation.

For more information on CHGME, check out the new paper from our New England Alliance for Children’s Health program that outlines in greater detail the past success of CHGME, makes the case for why it is still needed, and offers some ideas about how to improve the program.

Training for docs for grown-ups needs help too… It’s also worth noting that, unlike CHGME, the GME Program (aimed at training physicians who serve adults) receives a majority of its funding from Medicare to train medical residents. Currently, GME does not produce enough primary care providers to meet the country’s needs. Primary care is critical to fixing the health care system, and GME is one untapped tool for primary care workforce expansion, as outlined in another new paper we recently released. More can be done to redesign GME so that it is more nimble in its response to regional and national workforce needs. Policy makers have an opportunity to develop a framework of accountability that preserves our tradition of excellent medical education while tying it directly to the needs of consumers.

—Eva Marie Stahl, Policy Analyst —Patrick M. Tigue, Senior Policy Analyst