The Arthritis Foundation’s nationwide network of advocates urged the passage of an FY 2014 spending bill that, for the first time, earmarks funds to encourage more medical students to make a career commitment to pediatric rheumatology.
Approved by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee in July 2013, this legislation proposes $5 million for a student loan forgiveness program for pediatric rheumatologists willing to practice in underserved areas of the country. Now the House of Representatives must include $5 million for the program in their spending bill for the measure to move toward reality.
Today there are fewer than 250 board-certified, practicing pediatric rheumatologists to care for the nation’s 300,000 children diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA). Most are clustered in or around large metropolitan areas, making access to them difficult or impossible for many JA patients.
Arthritis Foundation e-Advocates sent more than 2,000 messages to senators, urging them to support the Pediatric Subspecialty Loan Repayment Program at the Health Resources and Services Administration. Arthritis Ambassadors worked to persuade key lawmakers to take a stand for children with JA and their families. These combined actions played a crucial role in the Committee’s passage of the bill.
If funded, the program will begin to alleviate the severe shortage of pediatric rheumatologists by providing an incentive to pursue a career in this subspecialty and to practice in areas where the need is greatest. Currently there are 11 states without a single practicing, board-certified pediatric rheumatologist, and 15 states with only one or two board-certified specialists. Right now, many parents have to take time off work and pull their children out of school for long-distance travel for doctor visits. Many other families are left with no choice but to settle for health care from non-specialists, risking substandard care for a complex group of diseases in which inadequate or delayed treatment can lead to serious consequences, such as permanent joint damage and disability, and in some types of JA, even blindness.
To fully secure funding of the program in FY 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives must also vote to include pediatric rheumatology funding in their proposed spending bill, which the House is now crafting.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Your participation can make a big difference! Take action NOW to urge your representatives to pass a similar bill in the U.S. House that follows the Senate’s lead. Click here to send a pre-drafted message to your member of Congress, requesting their support of the Pediatric Subspecialty Loan Repayment Program.
Click here to see the latest state map of where board-certified pediatric rheumatologists are practicing.
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