Terri Sewell introduces legislation to tackle growing doctor shortages

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It’s no secret, the demand for health care services has never been higher. But here in Alabama, and across the country, hospitals are struggling to recruit enough physicians to meet the growing health care demands.

Which is why Alabama 7th District U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, and her Republican colleague New York 24th District U.S. Rep. John Katko, on Thursday introduced legislation that would take critical steps towards reducing nationwide physician shortages by boosting the number of Medicare-supported residency positions.

The details

The Resident Physician Shortage Act (H.R. 1763) would support an additional 3,000 positions each year for the next five years, for a total of 15,000 residency positions.

“This week, medical students across the country will celebrate their match into physician residency programs, but many of their peers will be left without a residency due to the gap between students applying and the number of funded positions. At the same time, the United States faces a projected shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030. We need to act now to train more qualified doctors,” Sewell said.

Sewell continued, “Increasing the number of Medicare-supported residency positions means increasing the number of trained doctors to meet growing demand. It also means giving hospitals and health centers the tools they need to increase access, lower wait times for patients and create a pipeline of qualified medical professionals to serve Americans’ health needs.”

To become a practicing doctor in the U.S., medical school graduates must complete a residency program. However, for the past two decades, an artificial cap on the number of residents funded by Medicare – which is the primary source of payment for residents – has limited the expansion of training programs and the number of trainees. 

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States will face a physician shortage of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians by 2030. As the American population grows older, the demand for physicians and other medical professionals will increase.

Support from the medical community

Alabama’s own UAB Health System has come out in support of the legislation.

“UAB Medicine is supportive and thankful for Representatives Sewell (D-Ala.) and Katko’s (R-N.Y.) support of increasing the training programs for physicians with the reintroduction of the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2019,”said Dr. Will Ferniany, CEO of the UAB Health System. “Alabama and many states have critical shortages of physicians that this act will significantly address. Without this additional support UAB Hospital and other hospitals in Alabama will be unable to meet our physician needs.”  

Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., President and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, believes the Resident Physician Shortage Act would also also improve access to critical physician services “as it requires half of all the new positions be dedicated to shortage specialties.”

This bipartisan legislation recognizes that physicians are a critical element of our health care infrastructure, and would make a strategic investment in the health care workforce by providing a measured increase in federal support for physician training. The legislation would also improve access to critical physician services as it requires half of all the new positions be dedicated to shortage specialties, as well as incentivizes training in VA medical centers, community and outpatient settings, and rural hospitals. We are committed to working with Reps. Sewell and Katko, and all members of Congress, to alleviate the doctor shortage for the benefit of all Americans,” Kirch explained.