Reflecting on a Year in Advocacy: PA Education’s Policy Wins of 2021

From the very beginning, 2021 promised to be a year of change and new opportunities for PA education policy with renewed federal emphasis on long-standing PAEA priorities. Determined to fulfill this promise, PAEA’s Government Relations team implemented a vigorous advocacy strategy this year, focused on advancing key policy aims for PA students and faculty across the country, such as diversifying the profession, promoting health equity, increasing PA representation on federal advisory committees, and securing federal support for clinical training, faculty development, and curriculum development.   

As a result of these efforts, PAEA has achieved significant legislative and regulatory victories this year that will meaningfully assist programs in developing the future health workforce that patients deserve. Before we officially kick off 2022, it is important to take some time to reflect on these victories as well as their impact.  

One major goal for PAEA’s advocacy this year was to expand PA participation in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which provides scholarship and loan repayment assistance in exchange for a service commitment in a medically underserved community. Alongside other health professions stakeholders, PAEA helped to ensure the inclusion of a one-time $800 million investment in the NHSC as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which led to a significant increase in the number of PA student and graduate participants receiving financial support through the program. In addition, the Government Relations team successfully lobbied this year for PA students to be eligible for the NHSC Students to Service program, which provides participants up to $120,000 in loan repayment assistance in exchange for a three-year, full-time, or six-year, half-time service commitment. Despite the program being previously restricted to medical and dental students, PA students are now eligible for the first time beginning with the application cycle closing in December 2021. 

Over the course of 2021, the Government Relations team was also dedicated to furthering the aims of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which was reintroduced for the 117th Congress in February. Prior to reintroduction, PAEA worked closely with the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL), to incorporate language in the legislation supporting student diversity, clinical training opportunities, and resources for curriculum development. Ultimately, the bill was integrated into the Build Back Better Act, the Biden administration’s wide-ranging social spending legislation, which is currently under consideration in Congress.

To help relieve student loan debt for PA graduates and faculty while improving access to care for communities in need, PAEA partnered with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Coalition throughout 2021 to advocate for administrative improvements to PSLF. The PSLF program, which provides loan forgiveness in exchange for a ten-year service commitment in a non-profit, public service role, has denied over 98% of applications since 2017 due to servicing issues, complicated requirements, and a host of other issues. In response to the PSLF Coalition’s recommended improvements, the Biden administration announced a series of administrative changes to PSLF this fall, including a time-limited waiver for borrowers in previously ineligible repayment plans to qualify for forgiveness and a strengthened appeals process for borrowers who were wrongly denied during the application process. 

In alignment with PAEA’s long-standing priorities, advocacy for sustained investments in the Primary Care Training and Enhancement (PCTE) grant program remained on the docket in 2021 as well. The Government Relations team engaged in quarterly meetings with agency officials from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to discuss the importance of PCTE funding for PA programs, which resulted in additional awards and a new PA Rural Training program. Specifically, HRSA distributed nearly $2 million in new awards to 7 PA programs who had previously applied for the Primary Care Training and Enhancement – Physician Assistant (PCTE-PA) program in 2018 and designed the PA Rural Training program to provide roughly $2 million over 5 years to expand both the PA workforce in rural communities and clinical education capacity for PA programs. 

Lastly, to bolster PA influence among agencies at the executive level, the Government Relations team prioritized nominating highly qualified faculty for open seats on federal advisory committees. These committees help guide the work of agencies in the implementation of programs mandated by Congress and members of these committees can leverage their position to ensure that the interests of the PA profession are represented and advanced. By the end of 2021, PAEA facilitated several successful appointments, including the National Advisory Council on the National Health Service Corps and the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice, and will continue to support increased PA leadership capacity in 2022.  

Before closing the books on 2021, the Government Relations team would like to thank all faculty and student advocates for their leadership, dedication, and tireless efforts on behalf of PA education. Without their participation, none of these annual outcomes would be possible. We look forward to working together again on more policy and advocacy initiatives in the new year and extend our warmest wishes to all for a happy holiday season.