Two pieces of legislation introduced before the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), a former physician assistant (PA) and PA educator, would ensure PA educational programs have the resources needed, expand educational opportunities for students wanting to become PAs, and increase quality health care for rural and medically underserved areas.
While PAs are known for providing outstanding clinical care services, their aggregate unsubsidized loan limit is about half of their public health and health administration counterparts. To meet the growing demand for PAs, the issues of escalating education costs, student debt, and insufficient PA faculty must be addressed.
The Physician Assistant Higher Education Modernization Act of 2015 (HR 3944), introduced by Rep. Bass and Alcee Hastings (D-FL), would:
- Increase the unsubsidized loan limit for PAs to avoid having to rely on high-interest commercial loans.
- Authorize loan repayment programs for PAs who serve in areas of national need.
- Develop a program to expand PA education programs at rural serving institutions.
- Make Historically Black Colleges & Universities eligible to receive additional grants and give grant preference to programs at Hispanic Serving Institutions.
- Increase grant funding opportunities to improve PA faculty development and modernize technology at PA programs.
“The over 100,000 PAs across America are vital members of our health care team, especially in underserved and rural areas,” said Rep. Bass. “We need to ensure that PAs entering the pipeline have the support necessary to complete their high-level education and go on to provide high-quality care.”
Research shows that since the mid-90s, the number of primary care PAs has fallen by nearly 20 percent — a decrease that is particularly harmful to already underserved areas. A Robert Graham Center study suggests higher education costs and resulting student debt has led to fewer PA students choosing to practice in primary care settings or in areas of national need.
A related bill, the Physician Assistant Education Public Health Initiatives Modernization Act of 2015 (HR 3943), also sponsored by Rep. Bass, would:
- Expand scholarships for disadvantaged PA students.
- Authorize a loan repayment program for PAs who serve as faculty at a PA program or work in medically underserved areas.
- Fund research into PA education and help institutions develop full-time PA faculty members.
- Ensure a fair portion of the Primary Care Training and Enhancement Program funds are received by PA education programs.
“With rising educational debt and few PAs investing in becoming educators, if something isn’t done, the PA workforce will not be able to keep up with demand,” said Anthony Miller, chief policy officer of the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA). “Allowing PAs the opportunity for student loan repayment and educating PAs to be future faculty members of accredited PA programs will help pave the way for future generations of PAs.”
These bills represent the first legislation to specifically address PA education. Next week during its annual conference, PAEA will be taking more than 260 PA educators and students to Capitol Hill to meet with their Congressional representatives to discuss issues facing PA education and to promote this legislation.