By Ted Epperly, M.D.
American Academy of Family Physicians
The American Academy of Family Physicians and its 94,600 members congratulate Congress and President Barack Obama for including provisions that will improve the quality and efficiency of health care for all Americans in the now-enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The health care provisions in this law will save lives and money by ensuring continued access to health care for newly unemployed Americans, preserving the stability of Medicaid for low-income Americans, supporting health information technology infrastructure and implementation, investing in primary care medical education funding, and boosting research into the most effective clinical treatments.
The AAFP applauds the assurance that 6.5 million newly unemployed workers will have continued access to health care through COBRA premium assistance and that 20 million eligible, low-income Americans will continue to qualify for Medicaid coverage as a result of the increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage.
Particularly important are provisions enabling physicians to implement electronic health records, which will increase efficiency, reduce errors and enhance coordination of care for their patients. The AAFP has long called for federal leadership in ensuring the privacy of patients health information and in supporting physician efforts to implement EHR systems. By establishing a structure for developing interoperability standards and ensuring the privacy of medical records, this law takes an important step in resolving the obstacles to universal adoption of health information technology.
Moreover, by providing up to $44,000 to individual physicians for buying, installing and upgrading health information technology, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helps overcome an often insurmountable challenge that physicians have faced. Fully implemented, electronic health records promise to save more than $12 billion over 10 years in the U.S. health care system. A national health information technology infrastructure and universal implementation of this technology are integral to reining in spiraling health care costs and improving quality of care.
In addition, this law invests in the future of America’s health care system by revitalizing support for health professions grants for family medicine under Title VII of the Public Health Service Act and for the National Health Services Corps which places providers in underserved communities. This will focus funding on primary care medical education, which is critical to solving the current primary care physician shortage. At the same time, it will help ensure that primary medical care is available to millions of Americans who have limited financial or geographic access to the health services they need. Research has proven that a primary care-based health system increases quality, improves patient outcomes and holds down costs.
As advocates for evidence-based medicine, the AAFP supported provisions that set aside $1.1 billion for comparative effectiveness research. This paves the way for an evidence-based health care system that enables physicians and patients to identify the treatments that best meet their health care needs.
Taken as a whole, the health-related provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will preserve Americans’ access to health care despite economic hardship; invest in the future accessibility, efficiency and appropriateness of care; and ensure an adequate primary care physician workforce to meet patients needs.