The ACR has joined with a coalition of organizations dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents to request $50 million to fund the Pediatric Subspecialty Loan Repayment Program (PSLRP; Section 775 of the Public Health Service Act) in the Senate Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Labor, Health & Human Services (HHS), Education & Related Agencies appropriations bill.
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Spurred by the need to support child access to pediatric medical and mental healthcare amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress reauthorized this program in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, & Economic Security (CARES) Act; however, to implement it, the program must be funded through the appropriations process.
The coalition has sent a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate, but we also need help from ACR/ARP members whose senators and representatives serve on the Appropriations committee. Urge your lawmakers to help children access appropriate specialized healthcare.
Serious shortages of pediatric medical subspecialists, such as rheumatologists, pediatric surgical specialists and mental health professionals, are impeding access to care for young people. Juvenile patients face long wait times for subspecialty care, are required to travel long distances to receive that care or go without care altogether.
Ideally, children requiring specialized care should have access to the specialist they need close to their communities, but this is often not the case. Millions of children reside 1.5 hours or more from access to needed specialty care. One-quarter of children in the U.S., for instance, live greater than a 55-mile drive away from a pediatric rheumatologist, complicating care for children with juvenile arthritis. Additionally, traveling long distances for care may increase families’ risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus when telehealth is not a medically appropriate or available alternative.
Congress rightly recognized the importance of addressing critical healthcare workforce issues in the CARES Act by reauthorizing several of the Title VII Health Professions Programs administered by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), notably including the PSLRP. An initial investment of $50 million in the coming year would allow HRSA to implement this program and begin to address subspecialty and child mental health shortages in communities nationwide by providing qualifying pediatric health professionals with up to $35,000 in loan repayment annually in exchange for practicing in an underserved area for at least two years. This targeted financial support would help address high medical school or other graduate school debt that serves as a barrier to training in pediatric medical, surgical and mental health subspecialties. Such relief would help address underlying economic factors that are driving subspecialty shortages and ultimately ensure that children can access the care they need.