Murray, Brown Urge Colleagues to Expand Primary Care Access for Women And Children

June 2, 2021 by TWN Staff
Stacie Sutton Beck, left, a first-year medical resident, examines Derek Gordon, 9, in the emergency clinic at Tacoma General Hospital, August 11, 2009, in Tacoma, Washington. (Greg Gilbert/Seattle Times/MCT)

WASHINGTON – Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are urging their colleagues to pass the Ensuring Access to Primary Care for Women & Children Act. This legislation is intended to expand access to primary care but it languished in the last Congress.

The bill would accomplish its goal by reinstating the alignment of Medicaid payments with Medicare payments for two more years and during any public health emergency, including the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation would also expand the alignment in payments to include certain providers who are especially important to women’s health, including: obstetricians and gynecologists, nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, and physician assistants.

“We need to be doing everything we can to help everyone get the health care they need without worrying about cost. That’s why we passed the largest expansion of health care in a decade in the American Rescue Plan, and it’s why we are continuing to push for steps like this bill,” Murray said. 

“By encouraging more providers to see Medicaid patients this legislation would make care easier to get for the tens of millions of families who rely on Medicaid for quality, affordable coverage and ensure women have access to the providers they need. It’s a simple, common sense step that would quickly help a lot of families, and I’m going to keep pushing for us to take it,” she added.

Reintroducing the bill isn’t the first step Murray has taken to support families recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, she announced a plan to develop a public option for health coverage to lower health care costs and help families get health care.

She has also been a strong proponent of the American Rescue Plan, which builds on the progress of the Affordable Care Act to ensure access to health coverage by lowering or eliminating health insurance premiums for millions of Americans who buy insurance through the marketplaces, providing incentives for states to expand Medicaid, and subsidizing continuation of health coverage for those who have lost their employer-sponsored coverage.

As of October 2020, nearly 1.75 million people in Washington state and 80 million Americans were enrolled in the Medicaid program, an increase of more than 15 million enrollees nationally from February 2020.

The economic downturn caused by COVID-19 has caused more Americans to enroll in Medicaid, significantly increasing the need for primary care providers in the program.

Recognizing the need for additional support for Medicaid enrollees and their providers during public health emergencies, the Ensuring Access to Primary Care for Women & Children Act would ensure primary care parity automatically reinstates any time there’s a public health emergency. Reinstating the primary care parity expands health provider options by directing more funds toward Medicaid primary care providers.

Research has demonstrated that higher Medicaid payment rates significantly increase appointment availability for Medicaid enrollees. Studies have also shown that, because nurse practitioners and other health professionals, such as physician assistants, are trained to and already deliver many primary care services, extending payments to these professionals could increase access to primary care, particularly in unserved areas.

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