Lawmakers seek to head off physician shortage
May 5, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Obama’s push to reform the U.S. health care system received a boost today when key Senate and House lawmakers unveiled companion plans to address a growing nationwide shortage of primary-care doctors.
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson ( D-FL ), Harry Reid ( D-NV ) and Charles E. Schumer ( D-NY ) filed a bill today that would increase by 15 percent the ranks of doctors-in-training around the country. The bill would increase the number of Medicare-supported hospital residency positions by 15,000, bringing the total to about 115,000.
“Because physicians tend to stay where they train, this is a way we can make sure we have enough doctors in underserved areas,” Sen. Nelson said.
In recent years, the country’s growing population has left many physicians, hospital administrators and policymakers alarmed about whether they will be able to provide future patients with adequate access to health care.
Such concern has the Obama administration exploring ways to tackle physician shortages as part of its plan to extend health care insurance coverage. With the administration poised to press Congress for expanding coverage to as many as 47 million currently uninsured individuals, the number of Americans requesting health-care services will only increase.
“This bill is important for states like Nevada that have experienced large population growth since the cap on residency slots was enacted in 1997,” said Sen. Reid. “We know the need for physicians in Nevada is acute and this is one step forward in the monumental effort that is required to reform America’s struggling health care system.”
"No health care reform effort will be complete or even adequate unless we address the shortage of doctors in this country," Sen. Schumer said. "If we are going to insure more Americans, we will certainly need more physicians to treat them. This legislation will provide a common-sense fix to the outdated cap on residency slots."
On the House side a companion measure was filed by U.S. Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Kendrick Meek (D-FL) and Kathy Castor (D-FL).
“We cannot allow the shortage of primary care physician to grow any further. Already, too many communities across the country have too few doctors available to provide basic services," said Congressman Crowley. "It is time to make sure communities like mine, in Queens and the Bronx, have access to a doctor in their area that can tend to their basic health care needs – annual check-ups, flu shots and other vaccinations. I am proud to introduce this bill today with my House and Senate colleagues and I look forward to working with them to advance the effort to increase access to primary care services nationwide.”
“Every conversation about access to health care begins with the question of whether there are an adequate number of physicians in the community of concern and research indicates that physicians tend to practice in the states where they train. When it comes to a shortage in Medicare funded physician training positions, Florida is ranked at the top of the list and that’s a distinction nobody wants to have,” said Congressman Meek. “I introduced similar legislation last year because Florida needs adequate levels of physicians in our communities to reverse this worrisome trend.”
“Lowering health care costs for families and businesses is dependent upon a robust and reconstituted primary care framework and more physician residents. We need more medical residents in community health centers, hospitals, emergency rooms and clinics so that families can receive quality, affordable medical care. Residents are often their only chance for access to a primary care physician,” Congresswoman Castor said. “This bill will help ensure that doctors receive training in Florida and other high need states, and thereby more doctors will practice where they are needed most.”
The federal government traditionally has helped pay for physicians’ residencies, the final step in a doctor’s training. But in 1997, federal law capped the number of Medicare-supported medical residents for hospitals. Since 1997, the U.S. population has increased by more than 30 million – making the need for additional medical residents particularly acute in high growth states such as Florida and Nevada.