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Key health panel left without funds

WASHINGTON — One of the biggest threats to the success of President Obama’s health care law comes from shortages of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. But a 15-member commission created to investigate the problem has never met in two and a half years because it has no money from Congress or the US administration.

With an aging population and 30 million people expected to gain coverage under Obama’s health care law, the demand for medical care is expected to increase. But Dr. Sheldon M. Retchin, the vice chairman of the panel, the National Health Care Workforce Commission, said, “We are prohibited from meeting and discussing these issues.”

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Members of the independent nonpartisan panel said they wanted to address these questions: How many more doctors are needed? What is the right mix of primary care physicians and specialists? Who will care for the millions of people gaining Medicaid coverage next year?

Also, should states rewrite their laws to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to do more of the work done by doctors? Could pharmacists play a larger role in coordinating care and managing the use of medications?

The panel was created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Obama requested $3 million for the panel in each of the last two years, and Democrats such as Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on health, backed the request.

But Republicans in Congress have been reluctant to provide money for anything connected with the law, which they have opposed.

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