WASHINGTON, May 20 — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Thursday announced sweeping legislation to address the massive health care workforce shortage facing the United States.
Sanders announced the bill today while leading a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security titled “A Dire Shortage and Getting Worse: Solving the Crisis in the Health Care Workforce.”
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), by 2033 the U.S. will have a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians and a shortage of 55,200 physicians for primary care alone. This shortage – which disproportionately affects rural and underserved areas – was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic with frontline health care workers experiencing unprecedented burnout and COVID deaths themselves.
The legislation introduced today by Sanders, the Addressing the Shortage of Doctors Act, would increase funding for the National Health Service Corps by $1 billion per year for ten years, permanently authorize the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program, authorize 14,000 new Medicare-supported medical residency positions over seven years, and establish new criteria for how the new Graduate Medical Education (GME) training positions would be allotted at qualifying hospitals with a minimum of 50% of new slots going towards primary care.
“There is an extreme shortage of doctors and nurses in this country,” said Sen. Sanders. “Congress must address this crisis now or it will only worsen in the future. As a result, patients will suffer, unable to get the care they need.”
The federal government is responsible for funding the vast majority of residency slots in this country through the Medicare Graduate Medical Education Program. Other residency programs are funded through Medicaid and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Teaching Health Center GME program trains primary care providers in community health centers in 25 states across the country, but it is only authorized for another three years.
In the richest country in the history of the world, all communities should have access to doctors, nurses, dentists, and other medical professionals. This responsibility includes providing the medical training needed for aspiring students to get into the medical profession and be able to serve communities all over the country.
The legislation would also require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to distribute at least 25% of the slots to both hospitals in rural areas and hospitals that serve areas designated as HPSAs. Furthermore, hospitals receiving funding from the program would be required to create pay parity between primary care residents and specialty residents.
Read the fact sheet here.