The primary-care-oriented Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program funded by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 offers opportunities to explore alternative solutions to such graduate medical education (GME) policy issues as institutional indirect educational costs, variations in trainee-related productivity gains, and the program costs of GME innovations. THCGME reporting requirements may also provide data on the impact of various educational innovations on career choice and clinical care as well as other information that could be useful in devising a more transparent and equitable system of support for GME.
THCGME program advocates should, however, be cautious in applying any lessons learned to broader GME policy reform. Unlike the THCGME funding, Medicare GME payments are part of the Medicare entitlement, tied to provision of clinical services and financed outside the annual congressional appropriations process. Pressure on domestic discretionary spending makes substantially expanded appropriations for the THCGME program an unlikely path for widespread reform. Absent secure “all-payer financing” of GME, residency program sponsors lack sufficient Medicare funds to cover all GME costs and must favor investments in specialties that meet local concerns, not long-term national workforce priorities. Nonetheless, the THCGME program provides an exciting opportunity to improve and to study primary care GME. Furthermore, the organizational infrastructures established, program leaders developed, data collected, and lessons learned from the program can inform more fundamental change in U.S. GME payment policy.