MURKOWSKI, STEVENS, SCHUMER AND SANDERS INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO ADDRESS PHYSICIAN SHORTAGE CRISIS
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Noting that our Nation faces a severe shortage of primary care physicians, Senator Lisa Murkowski today joined Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in introducing the Physician Shortage Elimination Act. The legislation provides additional funding and flexibility for existing residency programs, grants and services that have been successful in the past but have been underutilized.
A dozen states have already reported significant physician shortages. There is insufficient availability of care in specialty areas like cardiology, radiology and neurology. However, the greatest shortages persistently have been in primary care. In rural areas of the country, where 50 million Americans live in areas that lack sufficient care, it represents one of the most intractable health policy problems of the past century.
Unfortunately, it is a problem that is forecast to get worse. In just 20 years, 20 percent of the Nation’s population will be 65 years or older, a percentage larger than any other time in history. Just as this aging population places the highest demand on our health care system, some experts predict a national shortage of 200,000 physicians. If that becomes reality, 84 million patients could be left without a doctor’s care.
“The physician shortage facing Alaska – and the nation as a whole - is intolerable,” said Senator Murkowski. “Congress cannot idly sit by while potentially millions of patients go without care.”
“Advances in medicine have greatly improved the healthcare available throughout the country,” said Senator Stevens. “But today, as more and more patients seek treatment, fewer physicians are available to help meet their needs. It is imperative that Congress act now to address this growing problem facing Alaska and the nation. I applaud Senator Murkowski's leadership on this issue and look forward to working with her and my Senate colleagues to get this bill passed.”
“National demand for physicians has grown to exceed the supply, particularly in upstate New York,” said Senator Schumer. “With general practitioners, surgeons, and specialty doctors leaving the area in record numbers, patients could see an erosion of access to care at the worst possible time. We need to provide direct incentives to train and retain physicians in order to keep our community and our overall economy healthy.”
“Our country is currently facing a real health care crisis and the shortage of physicians in rural areas is a significant part of the problem,” said Senator Sanders. “This bill will go a long way toward improving health care access for all Americans.”
The Physician Shortage Elimination Act provides additional investments in programs that have been effective in attracting and retaining physicians to serve in our most underserved areas of the country. Specifically the bill will:
• Double funding for the National Health Service Corp – a program that is dedicated to meeting the needs of the underserved. Despite its success, it has been vastly under funded – in fact 80% of the applicants must be turned away each year.
• Allow rural and underserved physician residency programs to expand by removing barriers that prevent programs from developing rural training programs.
• Double certain Title VII funding to create programs that target disadvantaged youth in rural and underserved areas and nurture them to create a “pipeline” to careers in healthcare; and
• Bolster the cornerstone for health care in underserved areas, the community health center, through grants and by allowing them to expand their residency programs.