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Access to Health Care; Workforce Issues; Health Reform; Testimony Transcripts


Summary of Testimony Fitzhugh Mullan, M.D. Before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, March 24, 2009

  • Improving access to health care in the United States will require modifications in the structure of the U.S. physician workforce, the foremost of which will be the construction of a strong primary care delivery base.
  • There are over 800,000 practicing physicians today or 280 physicians per 100,000 people. This represents a greater physician density than Canada (210) and the United Kingdom (250) but a density less than France (340) and Germany (350).
  • The distribution of physicians in the U.S. heavily favors urban areas. Metropolitan areas have 2-5 times as many physicians as non-metropolitan areas. Economically disadvantaged areas have significant physician access problems.
  • Two-thirds of the U.S. physician workforce practice as specialists. The number of young physicians indicating an interest in primary care is declining. Approximately 100,000 nurse practitioners (NPs) and 70,000 physician assistants (PAs) are practicing in the United States today. This represents an important asset for service delivery.
  • Today's physician-to-population ratio is in the zone of adequacy and should be maintained with appropriate growth in the number of physicians trained to parallel growth in the population. Increased requirements for patient care due to the aging of the population or the inclusion of more Americans in a universal care plan should be met by more strategic distribution of physicians, both geographically and across the primary care – specialty spectrum, and the expanded use of physician assistants and nurse practitioners. The role of PAs and NPs should be in both the generalist and specialist sectors of the care delivery system.
  • Medical schools – The current expansion of medical schools is welcome but Title VII legislation needs to be reinvigorated and up-funded to augment primary care training in medical schools.
  • Graduate Medical Education – The current number of Medicare funded slots is sufficient to maintain workforce numbers. However, reforms need to be made in current legislation to prioritize and incentivize community-based and ambulatory training. Beyond that, serious consideration needs to be given to aligning Medicare GME with the workforce needs of the country. This would entail designing a new GME allocation system.
  • Medical Practice – Primary care payment reform, support for new practice organizations such as primary care medical homes, and investment in health information technology are all important reforms that will help to promote a strong primary care practice base in the country.
  • Data and leadership in the field of U.S. health workforce development is insufficient. A National Center for Health Workforce Studies and a National Health Workforce Commission would both be important assets at the federal level in managing health care workforce reform.


House Hearing Serial No. 111-20, "Making Health Care Work for American Families: Improving Access to Care"

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Printed Record of Hearing: House Hearing Serial No. 111-20

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