A recent recommendation from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to keep Medicare graduate medical education (GME) funding at the same level for the next 10 years could make it difficult to train the next generation of physicians, academic physicians say.
Explore this issue:April 2015
In 2012, an IOM committee co-chaired by Gail Wilensky, PhD, and Don Berwick, MD, MPP, both former directors of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), was tasked with reviewing the way the current GME system is governed and funded and determining whether it’s producing a physician workforce that is meeting the needs of the U.S. population. In July 2014, the committee released a report, “Governance and Financing of Graduate Medical Education,” recommending that Medicare maintain its current GME funding levels, adjusted for inflation, while gradually moving to a performance-based system. The committee determined that a phased approach over a 10-year period would minimize disruption for institutions accustomed to receiving Medicare GME funding in roughly the same way for decades.
—Terry Tsue, MD
In a New England Journal of Medicine commentary published shortly after the release of the report, Drs. Wilensky and Berwick explained that “forecasts of future physician shortages are variable and have been historically unreliable,” and “current programs are producing an increasingly specialized workforce that is insufficiently responsive to local and national needs” (New Eng J Med. 2014;371:792-793). In concluding that increasing Medicare funding is not essential to increasing the number of physicians in the U.S., the committee noted that the number of residency slots increased by 17.5% over the last 10 years. This growth occurred in spite of a cap on government funding of GME instituted as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
The report also recommends the following:
- Create a GME policy council within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop and oversee a strategic plan for Medicare financing and create a GME Center within CMS to manage the operational aspects of GME funding.
- Fold the current direct GME expenditures and indirect cost funding streams into one fund with two subsidiary funds: a GME Operation Fund to support existing programs and a GME Transformation Fund to finance new, innovative programs as well as new programs in needed specialties and underserved areas.
- Create a new Medicare payment methodology based on a national per resident amount with a geographic adjustment, and distribute funds directly to GME sponsoring organizations. Implement performance-based payments based on Transformation Fund pilot payments.
- Keep Medicaid GME funding at the state’s discretion, but have Congress mandate the same level of transparency and accountability as promised for Medicare GME funding.
Maintaining the Status Quo
The IOM’s recommendation to freeze GME funding for the next 10 years troubles some academic physicians, who say medical education programs need more, not fewer, federal dollars.
—Stacey Gray, MD
“The demand for GME is greater than what is currently being funded,” said Terry Tsue, MD, the Douglas A. Girod, MD, Endowed Professor of head and neck surgical oncology, vice chair and professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, and physician-in-chief of the Cancer Center at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City. Dr. Tsue previously served as associate dean for GME. “To maintain the current level of funding is to fall behind; you’re not keeping up with the cost of training the residents at the status quo level,” he said.