The inequitable geographic distribution of health care resources has long been recognized as a problem in the United States and is a significant factor driving health care reform. Current state and federal policy objectives are for all citizens to have adequate access to health care. The availability of an adequate supply and distribution of health professionals is essential to the accessibility of basic health care services, regardless of the method of payment.
A method that has been undertaken to address shortages is to redistribute the supply of health professionals for primary care, mental and dental health. A key strategy is the designation of health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) and medically underserved areas (MUAs) to create incentives to improve the distribution of health professionals. The HPSA and MUA designation processes were developed as methods to determine exactly where shortages exist in order to define those areas eligible for participation in certain federally funded programs.
Designation is not a competitive process. Any individual or organization may nominate an area, facility or population group for a shortage designation. Any entity located within a geographic or special population region can use the designation to its own benefit to qualify for programs.