Lawmakers addressing physician shortages
Tue, Mar 14, 2023 4:45 PM
By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square
As the country grapples with physician shortages, state and federal lawmakers are introducing bills they hope will alleviate them.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said Tuesday that two bills he is co-sponsoring would help shortages in his state and the U.S.
The Physicians for Underserved Areas Act would place more residents in areas where hospitals have recently closed.
Boozman is also co-sponsoring the Resident Education Deferred Interest Act, which would pause student loan payments for medical and dental students while they are interns or residents.
Nearly 74% of Arkansas physicians trained in rural or underserved areas, according to a first-of-its-kind study by the Milbank Memorial Fund published last month. The national average is 65.5%, according to the study.
In 2010, one in three physicians in the U.S. were primary care doctors. But the number of residents entering primary care shrunk to one in five between 2010-2020, according to the report.
The data does not provide a complete picture of the availability of not just physicians but other health care workers, the study's authors said.
"Our health care system is wildly out of balance and in critical need of reform," said Christopher Koller, president of the Milbank Memorial Fund.
In Arkansas, an estimated 500,000 residents live in an area that does not have enough doctors, according to Boozman.
"We have an urgent need to ensure well-qualified medical providers are available to care for and treat Arkansans no matter where they live," Boozman said in a news release. "The Natural State ranks among the lowest in the number of available physicians per capita."
But it's not just Arkansas.
North Dakota health care executives told the House Finance and Taxation Committee on Monday the shortage of health care workers is forcing some long-term care facilities in that state to close. Lawmakers are considering an immigration center that would expedite visas and work permits. The bill passed the Senate and is awaiting approval from the House.
"Hospitals work with immigration offices, attorneys, and vendors to recruit international staff," Tim Blasl, president of the North Dakota Hospital Association, said. "It is my understanding that the cost to recruit ranges from $10,000 - $20,000 per individual, depending on the country. Not all hospitals, however, can afford to recruit nurses, lab techs, and rad techs in this way. We believe a state office of immigration would make this process more affordable."
Federal lawmakers are also reaching across the U.S. border for help. Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., are co-sponsoring a bill that would extend a program that allows doctors from other countries who complete their residency in the U.S. to stay for here and work in an underserved area for three years without returning home.
In Hawaii, lawmakers are considering a bill offering student loan forgiveness to medical workers who agree to work in the state for at least two years. The House Committee on Health and Homelessness will hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday.