Bipartisan EMPOWER for Health Act Now Law as Part of Coronavirus Response Package

March 30, 2020
Press Release

EVANSTON, IL – Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (TX-26), Ranking Member of the Health Subcommittee, announced today that the provisions of their legislation H.R. 2781, the Educating Medical Professionals and Optimizing Workforce Efficiency and Readiness (EMPOWER) for Health Act of 2019, was signed into law on Friday, March 27, 2020 as part of H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. H.R. 2781 was originally introduced May 16, 2019, passed the Committee on Energy and Commerce unanimously on July 17, 2019, and passed the House unanimously on October 28, 2019.

The EMPOWER for Health Act increases access to health care in underserved areas and diversifies the health care workforce to meet the needs of different populations by updating and assuring funding for the programs within Title VII of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA), which support clinician training and faculty development, including the training of practitioners in family medicine, general internal medicine, geriatrics, pediatrics, and other medical specialties. These programs strengthen the health care workforce to better meet the health care needs of certain populations, such as older individuals and those with chronic diseases, who are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

"The coronavirus pandemic poses a particular threat to older Americans, patients with underlying health issues, and individuals facing health disparities that often result in chronic health conditions. By including the EMPOWER for Health Act in the CARES Act, we have taken a significant step to better prepare and empower our national medical clinicians and providers to care for these individuals during a global health emergency,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky. “This bill will increase the diversity of our nation’s physicians, improve geriatrics education and training, and grow the number pediatric health care specialists. Now more than ever, we need this critical funding to increase access to providers in underserved areas and ensure a more diverse health care workforce able to meet the needs of our entire population.”

“As America continues to respond to this coronavirus, we must support our physicians to ensure patients are receiving the best care possible,” said Congressman Burgess. “The EMPOWER for Health Act of 2019 reauthorizes key Title VII funding, which increases access to physicians and other providers in underserved areas, and promotes training opportunities for physicians to maintain and improve their skills. This bipartisan legislation will help provide patients in North Texas and around the country access to skilled physicians and medical professionals – regardless of where they live. Of course, we must remember to thank our doctors today, but also make certain that we provide for the next generation of physicians.”

With the goal of improving health and achieving health equity, many of the programs that are now funded place a particular emphasis on ensuring the United States has a diverse health workforce, which has been shown to improve patient satisfaction, patient-clinician communication, and access to care for patients belonging to minority populations. This bill also directs the Secretary of HHS to develop a comprehensive coordinated plan for health workforce programs, which may include performance measures and the identification of gaps between the outcomes of such programs and relevant workforce projection needs.

“The HRSA Title VII programs play an important role in recruiting, training, and shaping the nation’s health workforce that is currently on the front lines of the COVID-19 national emergency,” said Karen Fisher, chief public policy officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “We applaud Congress for reauthorizing the Title VII programs in the CARES Act and for recognizing the need for sustained federal investment in our nation’s health workforce to help respond to ever-changing public health threats."

“Our nation faces a severe and growing shortage of eldercare professionals with the skills and training to meet the unique healthcare needs of older adults,” said Amy York, Executive Director of the Eldercare Workforce Alliance. “EWA supports this reauthorization because it expands the only federal geriatrics training program and encourages career development in the field. That’s an investment in an eldercare workforce that will support well-coordinated, high-quality care for all older Americans.”

“The passage of the EMPOWER for Health Act is a critical and much-needed step forward to help improve nationwide shortages of pediatric subspecialists, who treat some of the most vulnerable, medically complex children. These children often face long wait times or have to travel long distances to access the care they need. As we face the coronavirus pandemic, investment in our health care workforce is especially vital,” said Sally Goza, MD, FAAP, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “By reauthorizing the important Pediatric Subspecialty Loan Repayment Program, this legislation will help improve access to care by increasing the number of pediatric subspecialists and child and adolescent mental health providers who practice in underserved areas. The American Academy of Pediatrics thanks Rep. Schakowsky and Rep. Burgess for their leadership and their commitment to ensuring children can access the health care they need.”

“The National Medical Association applauds the inclusion of the EMPOWER for Health Act in the COVID stimulus supplemental package, CARES Act," said Dr. Oliver Brooks, President of the National Medical Association. "The EMPOWER for Health Act is a critical step to address the need for increased access to health care for underserved populations, as well as a more diverse health care workforce.  This is particularly important for high density populations or 'inner cities' with higher percentages of people of color and the poor who are more at risk for complications from COVID-19.” 

“We are grateful to Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Michael Burgess for their tireless championing of the geriatrics health professions programs under Title VII,” said Nancy Lundebjerg, CEO of the American Geriatrics Society.  “Current data shows that COVID-19 is impacting all Americans, with older Americans and those with multiple chronic conditions being more vulnerable to its rapid progression. Those supported by the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program and the Geriatrics Academic Career Awards are already hard at work helping primary care practices, long-term care, and other community-based providers understand the unique needs of older Americans within the context of this global pandemic. We applaud bipartisan legislators for helping prioritize long-term solutions in this rapid response to COVID-19.”

“NAGE and all of our members across the nation are greatly appreciative of the thoughtful work of Representative Schakowsky and others that led to this authorization of the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program and the Geriatric Academic Career Awards program,” said Dr. Kate Bennett, President of the National Association for Geriatric Education (NAGE). “This bipartisan, bicameral legislation enables the GWEP sites to continue their work training and educating the healthcare workforce to improve care for older adults and ensure that primary care focuses on what is most important to older adults and their family caregivers.  GWEPs are already adapting our education and services in response to the coronavirus pandemic in conjunction with our community and primary care partners to ensure that older adults are safe and receive the care they need and prefer.”

"The passage of the EMPOWER for Health Act is imperative for building the workforce of health care providers to serve older adults – even more critical in this time of pandemic for the most vulnerable Americans," added Rush University Medical Center. "We are beyond grateful to Congresswoman Schakowsky and Congressman Burgess for being champions of this legislation to support the work that we do here at Rush University Medical Center and centers across the country in educating our nation’s health care providers."

Cosponsors of H.R. 2781 include Representatives Casten, Castor, Clarke, Fitzpatrick, Grijalva, Johnson (TX), Kelly (IL), Long, Morelle, Norton, Rice (NY), Roybal-Allard, Rush, and Walden.