- The Bipartisan Primary Care Act would grant over $26 billion to expand primary care and respond to the healthcare workforce shortages.
- The bill aims to address the workforce shortage across healthcare professions, including nursing.
- The Bipartisan Primary Care Act would address the nursing shortage with a $1.2 billion investment in nursing education.
On September 19, Senators Bernie Sanders, I-V.T., and Roger Marshall, R-K.S., introduced a new bill that aims to address ongoing workforce shortages plaguing nursing and other healthcare professions. If enacted, the bill, which has already been approved by a key Senate committee, could increase opportunities for nurse loan forgiveness and create more training opportunities for much-needed nursing and nursing school faculty positions, particularly in rural and underserved areas.
The Bipartisan Primary Care Act: Why Was It Written?
The Primary Care and Health Workforce Expansion Act would provide more than $26 billion to expand primary care and respond to healthcare crises, including the nursing shortage. The proposal would also provide funding infusions for providers in mental health, maternal health care, dentistry, and primary care, with a focus on rural and other medically underserved areas.
“Everyone in America understands that our healthcare system is broken and getting worse. Despite spending twice as much per capita as any other nation, millions of Americans are unable to access the primary care and dental care they desperately need and we have a massive shortage of doctors, nurses, dentists and mental health professionals,” Sanders said in a statement.
The United States currently has a nursing shortage, with the deficit expected to reach as high as 450,000 nationwide over the next two years, according to a report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor, and Pensions (HELP), which Sanders chairs. On September 21, the committee approved the bill by a 14-7 voice vote. The bill is now before the full Senate for consideration, and there is no concrete timeline for further action. GovTrack, a nonpartisan legislation tracking service, gives the bill a 60% chance of being enacted.
Among other provisions, specific proposed investments include a one-time investment of $3 billion to improve community health centers, $2.85 billion to support 20,000 student loan forgiveness awards, and 2,100 scholarships to healthcare providers who work in underserved, rural, and tribal communities.
Rural areas struggle to attract and retain healthcare professionals for a myriad of reasons, including lower population densities and limited healthcare infrastructure. The act would work to address that in several ways. One is a $300 million investment that will increase the number of primary care physicians working in underserved and rural areas.
In another example, according to a summary of the act, the bill would also create a $300 million grant program to double medical school classes at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
What Does the Bipartisan Primary Care Act Contain for Nurses?
Nurses in various locations and practice settings could benefit from funding provisions found in the proposed legislation.
The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) would see an increase of funds, from $310 million to $950 million annually for the next three years, to provide scholarships and debt forgiveness for healthcare professionals — including nurses — who work in America’s most underserved areas under the NHSC program.
The bill will also target nursing education bottlenecks with a $1.2 billion grant to modernize and enhance nursing schools. Specifically, this grant aims to increase faculty salaries and class sizes of two-year nursing programs by 20% over the next five years, with the goal of training up to 60,000 nurses on top of current levels.
The bill would maintain scholarship and loan repayment programs with a $93 million investment and allocate $30 million each year to train 350 more nurse practitioners in rural and underserved communities.
A shortage of nursing school faculty also is a well-established factor in the nursing shortage. The bill aims to tackle this problem head-on, proposing $28.5 million per year for three years to train around 1,000 new nurse faculty members annually for the duration of the program.
A $15 million investment aims to close the salary gap between clinical nurse specialists and nurse faculty, while a $500 million investment will incentivize former nurses to return to the profession.
Page last reviewed on November 13, 2023