Legislation would ramp residency slots

A new bill introduced March 14 by U.S. Representatives Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) and Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) would address the nation's physician shortage by creating 15,000 new Graduate Medical Education (GME) slots over five years.

"The United States is on the cusp of a crisis in access to both specialty and primary care physicians. We have an urgent need to take action to ensure Americans have access to quality, well trained doctors," said Schwartz in a statement announcing the Training Tomorrow's Doctors Today Act.

"While there will be more than 74 million American seniors in need of healthcare services within 20 years, experts estimate that 130,000 new physicians will be necessary to eliminate the workforce shortage by 2025. This bipartisan legislation is critical," she explained.

Schock added, "Every eight seconds another baby boomer turns 65 so it’s incumbent upon us to ensure we have a prepared physician workforce in place to meet the growing healthcare demands on our country. The primary way our country can address the physician shortage is by ensuring we increase the number of Graduate Medical Education slots. By doing so, we are increasing the number of medical school graduates who will receive hands-on training in a patient setting to gain the experience needed to become a practicing physician.”

A statement issued by Schwartz said the legislation, if enacted, would provide the first increase in GME slots in nearly 15 years; the number of federally funded residencies has been frozen since 1997. The Schock-Schwartz bill would authorize the Secretary of Health & Human Service to issue 3,000 new GME slots a year over five years. Individual hospitals would be eligible to earn a maximum of 75 slots.

In a telephone interview with PhysBizTech, Schwartz said the bill would improve the "training of physicians in a variety of settings – including outpatient settings – and the use of information technology."

She added, "One of [the ways] we can improve coverage and continue to contain costs is to encourage physicians and medical providers and health systems and hospitals to use information technology to measure effectiveness and to be more accountable to patient outcomes. And that should be true as we expand the number of residency programs -- to make sure they are meeting the goals we have in terms of providing quality care, efficient care and appropriate care to all Americans.

The bill would also require teaching hospitals to report the full cost of their medical residency programs, detailing such costs as a resident's laboratory/research training.

Additionally, the legislation would require the Government Accountability Office to issue two new reports: the first recommending ways to increase diversity in the healthcare workforce; and the second reviewing the competency of doctors who serve seniors, along with recommendations for improving senior care.

Noting the bipartisan nature of the bill, Schwartz said she and Schock will now "get to work in terms of encouraging our colleagues to become co-sponsors."

To date, 11 House members have co-sponsored the legislation – both Republicans and Democrats -- from a variety of urban and rural areas, according to Charlene MacDonald, legislative director for Schwartz.

Schwartz continued, "There is increasing recognition of the need for more physicians. Many of my colleagues have heard concerns from constituents and from the medical community – the concerns for adequate doctors, the concerns for primary care physicians, which includes general surgeons and OB/GYN, as well as internists and family practice physicians."

"We have seen increases in the number of medical students and the number of medical schools, but they can't go out and practice without a residency," she added. "So it is extremely important that they have residency programs to go to."