PCAST Report to the President on Academic Health Centers

Executive Office of the President

President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology

November 8, 1995

President William J. Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The significant accomplishments in American biomedical research and our innovations in medical care are widely respected throughout the country and, indeed, the world. These achievements have occurred primarily at our Nation's academic health centers. Since World War II, the Federal government has played a vital role in the support of academic health centers and has done so on a bipartisan basis.

Your Administration's 1994 health care reform plan acknowledged the important contribution to our quality of life made by academic health centers and provided a mechanism to mitigate the loss of significant revenue that these institutions are now experiencing. In the absence of comprehensive health care reform, academic health centers are beginning to show signs of serious stress. Although they represent only six percent of the Nation's non-Federal acute care hospitals, these institutions provide more than half of the care for the indigent and uninsured populations. The prospect of sharp reductions in Medicare, Medicaid, and Disproportionate Share (DSM expenditures, coupled with the erosion of clinical revenues resulting from the emergence of managed care, could have a devastating impact on the Nation's capacity to support medical research and education and the system that provides medical care to its most vulnerable citizens.

Academic health centers develop the biomedical knowledge and clinical techniques needed for new and improved treatments, train the Nation's physicians and provide unique patient care resources. In the long term, biomedical research conducted in these centers offers our citizens the best potential to enhance their quality of life and control medical expenditures with cost-effective methods for disease prevention and management.

Historically, the Federal government has assumed responsibility for a majority of the support for fundamental biomedical research and graduate medical education as a public investment that contributes broadly to the health of Americans. In 1995, the Federal investment in academic health centers for biomedical research and education was about one percent of total health care expenditures. Measured by any standard, this very modest rate of investment in an area of extraordinarily rapid advancement in knowledge and technology has had a remarkable yield. In addition, the Federal government provides, through the Medicaid and DSH programs, significant support for low-income patient care delivered in academic health centers.

Clinical revenues derived from medical practice programs conducted by the faculty of academic health centers have been another very significant source of funds for these programs of research, education and indigent care. Current changes in the health care system, including Medicare and Medicaid reform, driven by Federal and State fiscal concerns and the emergence of managed care, also threaten to eliminate this critical support for biomedical research and medical education.

We recognize the need to slow the rate of growth in health care costs and endorse efforts to address this need. Both public and private elements of the health care system need to be carefully examined and restructured to enhance medical efficacy and cost-effectiveness. However, it is also essential that in this process, the crucial public benefits that are contributed uniquely by academic health centers be recognized, and that their continued strength remain an important priority in the ongoing health care debate.

A panel of your Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) examined these issues and reached the following conclusions:

  • Sharing the Responsibility -- The education of competent physicians and scientists, and the production of new biomedical knowledge and technologies, represent vital public necessities. To date, only the Federal government has supported these fimctions explicitly through the Graduate Medical Education (GME) mechanisms of the Medicare program. With a few notable exceptions, other payers do not contribute to this support. We affirm the -principle that responsibility for supporting the missions of academic health centers and their contributions to the well-being of society should be broadly shared by all who benefit.
  • Care for the Indigent and Uninsured -- Historically, academic health centers have provided,care for a disproportionate share of the indigent and uninsured populations and have received a Medicare payment adjustment for this service. It is likely that this responsibility can only increase in the developing private and public medical care marketplaces. With the trend toward managed care, others are even less likely to provide this service because of its resource-intensive nature.  
  • Current Debate -- complex issues is unlikely to emerge from the heat of the current public debate, with its intense and narrow focus on budgetary concerns.

To support and sustain the Nation's academic health centers in the immediate future and over the longer term, PCAST therefore respectfully suggests that you consider the following recommendations:

  • Expert Commission -- We recommend that an expert commission, credible to the President, the Congress and the public, be established to develop and recommend specific policies to address the preservation of the research and educational capacity of the Nation's academic health centers, and the supply, composition and support of the future health care work force. The commission should carefully consider the implementation of an equitable mechanism to achieve these objectives. The commission should also determine the most effective way to allocate training funds 'm furthering the goals of a rational workforce policy to ensure that the numbers and competencies of health care professionals are responsive to the Nation's needs. We believe that such an approach can best ensure the future vitality of our biomedical research enterprise and the highest quality of our Nation's medical care.
  • Graduate Medical Education (GME) -- In the interim, in revising the Medicare program, the Administration should continue to resist disproportionate decreases in the GME accounts. Further, the funds for GME that are currently melded into the premiums paid to all Medicare managed care providers (the Average Adjusted Per Capita Cost formula) should be redirected to accomplish their intended objectives. This may entail developing a process that provides these payments directly to caregivers and institutions that are involved in graduate medical education. 
  • Disproportionate Share -- If academic health centers are to continue their role of disproportionately caring for the indigent and uninsured populations, then appropriate resources must be provided. This will almost certainly remain a responsibility of the government.

PCAST believes that the academic health centers are a national resource that, together with our research universities, must be sustained for the good of the Nation. We hope that you will find these recommendations helpful.