On December 27, President Donald Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 into law. This package, which combines $900 billion in additional spending to respond to COVID-19 with $1.4 trillion to fund federal government operations through the end of fiscal year 2021, includes a number of key policy advancements for PA education.
Within the COVID-19 response component of the law, Congress provided an additional $22 billion in aid to institutions of higher education through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), first established in the CARES Act in March 2020. Beyond aid to higher education, the law also addressed the looming expiration of mandatory funding for the National Health Service Corps scholarship and loan repayment programs by extending the current authorization through fiscal year 2023, thereby providing the programs with needed stability.
As a result of continued interprofessional advocacy with health professions education stakeholders, the package also includes nearly $30 million in increases for health workforce development programs under Title VII of the Public Health Service Act. Particular items of note include:
- $4 million in additional funding for the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment program;
- $3 million in additional funding to support interprofessional behavioral health training opportunities for PAs, nurse practitioners, social workers, and health service psychologists;
- $2 million in additional funding for the Area Health Education Centers program, which helps to provide clinical rotations in rural and underserved areas for PA students; and
- The preservation of the Health Careers Opportunity Program at $15 million annually, which was proposed for elimination in the Senate Health and Human Services appropriations bill.
In a key victory for practicing PAs, the law also contains a long-standing priority for AAPA: authorizing PAs to receive direct payment for their services from Medicare. This provision, estimated to generate cost savings for the federal government, was included as an offset for other spending included in the package.
While the package includes key victories for PA education, continued advocacy will be needed to address gaps in the agreement. Specifically, the law’s failure to extend the current suspension on payments and interest accrual for federally held student loans will require the incoming Biden administration to extend relief via executive action in January. An additional advocacy priority for 2021 will be supplemental funding for the National Health Service Corps, beyond current mandatory levels, to address workforce gaps illustrated by the pandemic.
The Government Relations team would like to thank the PA faculty and students that have participated in the Association’s grassroots activities this year to advocate for COVID-19 relief and continued investments in health workforce development. Members with questions are invited to contact Tyler Smith at tsmith@PAEAonline.org.