Members of Congress Discuss Aging Population, Growing Demand for Nurses
Secretary Burwell States the Importance of Allowing Nurses to “Operate at the Top of their License”
February 26, 2016 11:54 AM
On Wednesday, February 24, the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Secretary Sylvia Burwell testified at the hearing and fielded questions on issues of concern to the members of the Committee, and two Representatives raised the issue of the growing demand for nurses with an aging population.
Representative Lois Capps (D-CA-24) highlighted the importance of federal investment in the training and retention of the nursing workforce. Rep. Capps has introduced the Title VIII Nursing Workforce Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2713) to reauthorize Title VIII programs supporting the training, education, recruitment and retention of a qualified health care workforce.
“Our nation faces the challenge of caring for a growing patient population with limited resources,” Rep. Capps said. “Title VIII provides critical federal grants for nursing schools and organizations to advance their educational programs, promote diversity in the field, re-pay loans for nursing students who work in facilities with critical shortages, and train geriatric nurses.”
Secretary Burwell stated that the budget request includes $200 million in investment for such education and training as well as for loan forgiveness to incentivize trained professionals “to go to places where we have shortages and needs.”
Secretary Burwell also spoke more generally about the ways in which increasing the role of nurses by having them “operate at the top of their license” results in higher quality care at a lower cost. “Throughout the budget and throughout the proposals that are before you now there are a number of things that I think are supportive of the nursing community because we believe they are part of getting us to a system where we have better quality care in a more affordable way,” Secretary Burwell said. “So having nurses and other health practitioners operate at the top of their license… We are supporting it in terms of our funding, but also in terms of how we think about the role of the nurse in a system that can improve quality and reduce cost.”
Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL-14) emphasized the need for Medicare to adapt to the growing demand for nursing with an aging population and the fiscal challenges it presents. “The number of people who are at least 65 will increase by 37 percent by 2026 – from 48 million Americans to 66 million Americans. That’s going to call on Medicare and skilled nursing like never before,” she said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, home health care services is the industry with the fastest growing employment projections.NAHC has expressed support for legislation, the Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act (S. 578/H.R. 1342), to allow non-physician practitioners including Nurse Practitioners to authorize Medicare home health plans of care. NAHC has also stated the need for federal funding to support the training of home health care workers, such as forgiving the student loans of nurses and aides who agree to work in rural and underserved areas. NAHC explained the importance of these and other changes at a press conference last December on the total mileage traveled by home care and hospice nurses each year (see previous NAHC Report article here).
Previous NAHC Report coverage summarizing the proposals in the President’s budget request relevant to home care and hospice is available hereand here.