In 1998, The Health Professions Education Partnerships Act (a part of Titles VII and VIII of the Public Health Service Act) was approved unanimously by the Senate, then substantiated by an overwhelming vote of 303 to 102 in the House of Representatives, and finally cleared by the President with strong support. This legislation amended and extended various HRSA programs, but most notably granted the generous funding for the health professions and nursing education programs. As a result of the $378 million funding last year, programs developed supporting the education and training of physicians, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, public health professionals, allied health professionals and health administrators. These programs were aimed at improving the quality, distribution, and ethnic diversity of the nation's health care work force, and as a result our health care industry saw an increase in the number of minority health students and professionals. However, the president's proposed fiscal 2003 budget would dramatically reduce this funding by $278 million, which is nearly a 72 percent decrease. With the recent terrorists incidents in our country, the Department of Health and Human Services has understandably shifted its primary focus to fighting bio-terrorism. However, I am disturbed how a legislation that received such strong support can be disregard to such an extent, and I sense that this diminution of Titles VII and VIII is a significant step backwards in the goal of providing health care for all Americans. Hence, my letter to you Dr. Elizondo, hoping that you too can share my concerns.
African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans make up 22 percent of the U.S. population, however they constitute a much smaller fraction of the physicians, dentists, nurses, and other professionals in the health care system. So it is apparent that the country's supply of health care professionals is demographically unbalanced and the current health care system is failing to maximize the potential of these minority groups.