Politics

Boozman Touts Remedy for Physician Shortage in Arkansas

Bill Comes as ‘Match Day’ Unfolds for U.S. Medical School Students

WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) introduced the bipartisan Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021, legislation to significantly increase Medicare-supported doctor training slots to help address the growing shortage of primary and specialty care physicians in Arkansas.

“We know that adequate access to primary and specialty doctors results in longer lives and better health care outcomes. Smaller, more rural states like Arkansas face an acute need for medical providers and the shortage will only increase in the coming years. In fact, the Natural State ranks among the lowest states in the number of available physicians per capita. Our legislation builds on the increased cap we passed last year and represents another meaningful step to ensure Americans in every community are able to seek care from trusted health providers,” said Boozman.

The Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021 would lift the arbitrary cap on the number of Medicare-funded graduate medical education (GME) positions and increase the number of GME positions nationwide by an additional 14,000 over seven years. That’s on top of a 1,000-slot increase Congress allotted as part of the Fiscal Year 2021 omnibus year-end funding bill, for a total increase of 15,000 slots. The legislation prioritizes increasing positions in states with new medical schools, hospitals training physicians in excess of their cap, hospitals that partner with VA medical centers, as well as hospitals focusing on community-based training.

Today, March 19, is “Match Day,” when tens of thousands of medical students will find out where they will begin their residency training. Without a residency, they can’t go on to become a licensed physician in the United States. After four years of medical school, these graduates will spend typically three to five more years learning and practicing as residents in their desired specialties.  

Arkansas ranks among the lowest states in active patient care physicians per 100,000 persons. Between one-third and one-half of medical school graduates leave Arkansas for residency training. In recent years, there were nearly half as many available residency positions as medical school graduates in the state, meaning a large share of prospective residents are forced to continue their medical training elsewhere. The effect of this displacement is the loss of future physicians in the Natural State given residents’ tendency to practice close by the communities in which they complete their training.

“The shortage of residency positions is something that is particularly threatening to the health of rural states like Arkansas because it keeps medical schools from being able to train enough physicians to meet the needs of our citizens,” said University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA. “I am so grateful to Sen. John Boozman for his continued leadership on this issue.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, medical schools and teaching hospitals were forced to rely on a patchwork of short-term solutions to ensure that their communities had access to needed health care—including graduating students early from medical schools, calling up retired physicians and relocating physicians from other geographic regions to staff their inpatient units. As the immediate crisis subsides, demand for care will continue to far outpace supply as the nation’s population continues to grow and age, in addition to grappling with the potential long-term term effects of COVID-19. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the vital role that physicians and other health care providers play in our nation’s health care infrastructure. The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act would help expand the physician workforce to address the estimated shortage of physicians and serve as an essential component of our efforts to address current and future public health crises, as well as to bolster our nation’s health care infrastructure and ensure access to high-quality health care for all,” said David J. Skorton, MD, AAMC president and CEO. \

Boozman joined U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to introduce the Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021.

“Since day one, hundreds of thousands of physicians from across the country have been on the front lines of the fight against the most serious public health crisis in our lifetimes – and our nation has desperately needed every single one of them,” said Menendez.  “The fact is, we were already facing a physician shortage crisis before the pandemic hit.  We will not be prepared to respond to a future public health crisis – let alone the health needs of an aging population – if we don’t act now to significantly increase the number of medical school students and physician residents in the training pipeline. Lifting this arbitrary cap would make a big difference in providing access quality health care in every community.”

Boozman and Menendez introduced similar legislation in 2019 that sought to gradually lift the caps on Medicare-supported doctor training slots by 3,000 per year over five years.

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