A series of new federal investments worth $250 million will help communities to address the shortage of primary care physicians, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said on Friday.

The new investments are part of the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama in March. Harkin, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, developed the prevention and public health portion of the committee's health-reform proposal as a senior member of the panel.

Among key provisions are $168 million to train more than 500 new primary care physicians in the next five years, and $32 million to support the training of more than 600 physician assistants.

"Reducing chronic illness in our country is a necessity for longer lives, a better quality of life for all Americans and for a better economy by truly bending the cost curve on health-care spending," Harkin said in a press release.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the United States will face a shortage of approximately 21,000 primary care physicians in 2015. The additional funding, announced last week by U.S. Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius, will support the training and development of more than 16,000 new primary care providers in the next five years.

The investments aimed at increasing the numbers of primary care doctors are the first allocation from the new $500 million Prevention and Public Health fund for fiscal year 2010 created by the Affordable Care Act. Half of this fund - $250 million - will be used to boost the supply of primary care providers by providing new resources for:

* Creating additional primary care residency slots: $168 million for training more than 500 new primary care physicians by 2015;

* Supporting physician assistant training in primary care: $32 million for supporting the development of more than 600 new physician assistants, who practice medicine as members of a team with their supervising physician and can be trained in a shorter period of time than physicians;

* Encouraging students to pursue full-time nursing careers: $30 million for encouraging more than 600 nursing students to attend school full time so that they have better odds of completing their education;

* Establishing new nurse practitioner-led clinics: $15 million for the operation of 10 nurse-managed health clinics to assist in the training of nurse practitioners. These clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners, which provide comprehensive primary health-care services to people living in medically underserved communities; and

* Encouraging states to plan for and address health professional workforce needs: $5 million for states to plan and implement innovative strategies to expand their primary care work forces by 10 to 25 percent in 10 years to meet increased demand for primary care services.

"With these health-care workforce investments, we have a unique opportunity to further strengthen our primary care workforce for the future," said Dr. Mary Wakefield, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) administrator. The announcement is "a strong indication of our commitment and one of many steps in the right direction."

A fact sheet can be found at: www.healthreform.gov/newsroom/primarycareworkforce.html.