By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
There is a growing medical crisis in the U.S. having to do with a shortage of doctors, according to a group of lawmakers, who said the problem will become a full-blown emergency unless something is done about it.
Both U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-C-Brooklyn-Staten Island) and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, are part of a group of bipartisan legislators who have re-introduced a bill that would increase the number of physicians whose medical training is funded by Medicare.
The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2013 was sponsored in the House by Grimm and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) and in the Senate by Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida). The bill would expand the current cap on the number of Medicare-supported training slots for doctors, according to Grimm, who said it would help to ensure that teaching hospitals can meet the growing demands for physicians. The number of training slots would be expanded to 15,000 (3,000 slots a year over a period of five years). That would bring the total number of slots available to 102,000.
The U.S. is expected to face a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians and 46,000 surgeons and medical specialists – a stunning shortage of more than 91,000 doctors – by 2020, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
The shortage is expected to be exacerbated by the aging Baby Boomer population, Grimm said.
“Our nation is facing a physician shortage, which will only be exacerbated as more baby boomers age into Medicare. While new medical schools are educating more physicians, we still do not have enough resident slots through the Graduate Medical Education (GME) program to train these additional doctors, a problem that greatly impacts New York where one in seven of our nation’s doctors are trained,” Grimm said.
“America has the world’s best and brightest physicians, and we should expand that tradition for our seniors, children, and for all Americans, who deserve accessible, high-quality healthcare,” Grimm said.
“With many doctors approaching the end of their careers, our country is facing a shortage in physicians,” Schumer said. “In parts of New York, we’re already experiencing severe doctor shortages that are putting patient care at risk. Emergency rooms are missing doctors with key expertise for hours at a time, community health centers don’t always have the medical staff they need, and our communities end up paying the price. We need to reverse this growing trend that’s poised to get worse in the next few years, and we need to do it quickly and that’s why congress should pass this important piece of legislation so that our teaching hospitals can accommodate more residency positions,” he said.
Medicare and Medicaid graduate medical education (GME) funding reimburses teaching hospitals for the additional costs incurred as a result of training physicians.
In 1997, federal law froze the number of Medicare-supported hospital residency positions based on the number of residents that each hospital trained in 1996. Since that time, the cap has not been lifted or adjusted, despite dramatic population growth and an impending doctor shortage, Grimm said.
It’s not just a health care issue, according to the lawmakers. Addressing the doctor shortage also makes economic sense.
Teaching hospitals are also engines of economic growth, generating over $512 billion and supporting 3.4 million jobs nationwide, Schumer said. In New York State, these hospitals generate nearly $108 billion for state and local economies annually, and support more than 686,000 high-quality jobs through direct and indirect employment, he said.
The legislation is supported by the American Medical Association (AMA) and other health care advocacy groups.
Dr. Jeremy A. Lazarus, president of the AMA, said the bill is badly needed. "Workforce experts predict that the U.S. will face a shortage of 130,000 physicians across all specialties by 2025. This shortage will be exacerbated by the increased demand on our health care delivery system as more seniors enroll in Medicare and newly insured Americans seek access to care,” he said.
"We will continue to work with members of Congress to advance this important issue to meet the nation's need for more physicians,” Lazarus said.