JERSEY CITY, N.J. – As the United States enters its second year in the fight to protect and save American lives from COVID-19, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced the bipartisan Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021 to significantly increase Medicare-supported doctor training slots to help address the growing nationwide physician shortage crisis. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the U.S. is expected to face a shortage of up to 139,000 primary care and specialty physicians by 2033.
“Since day one, hundreds of thousands of physicians from across the country have been on the front lines of the fight against the most serious public health crisis in our lifetimes – and our nation has desperately needed every single one of them,” said Sen. Menendez. “The fact is, we were already facing a physician shortage crisis before the pandemic hit. We will not be prepared to respond to a future public health crisis – let alone the health needs of an aging population – if we don’t act now to significantly increase the number of medical school students and physician residents in the training pipeline. Lifting this arbitrary cap would make a big difference in providing access quality health care in every community.”
“We know that adequate access to primary and specialty doctors results in longer lives and better health care outcomes. Smaller, more rural states like Arkansas face an acute need for medical providers and the shortage will only increase in the coming years. In fact, the Natural State ranks among the lowest states in the number of available physicians per capita. Our legislation builds on the increased cap we passed last year and represents another meaningful step to ensure Americans in every community are able to seek care from trusted health providers,” said Sen. Boozman.
“The United States has faced a shortage of primary and specialty care physicians for years, and the problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic as healthcare facilities struggled to meet patient demand. We must combat the growing shortage by increasing the number of training positions so recent medical school graduates can begin their residency training and move one step closer to providing the healthcare our communities need,” said Sen. Schumer. “We made important progress last year by adding new residency slots for the first time in two decades, but we cannot let up. This legislation, the Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021, addresses the urgent need for more qualified primary and specialty care physicians by creating 15,000 new residency training slots across the United States and prioritizes those slots for communities that need them most. I’m proud to support this legislation with Senator Menendez to ensure all Americans have access to a physician and the care and medical services they deserve and need.”
The Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021 would lift the arbitrary cap on the number of Medicare-funded graduate medical education (GME) positions and increase the number of GME positions nationwide by an additional 14,000 over seven years. That’s on top of a 1,000-slot increase Sen. Menendez successfully secured as part of the FY21 omnibus year-end funding bill, for a total increase of 15,000 slots. The legislation would prioritize increasing positions in states with new medical schools, hospitals training physicians in excess of their cap, hospitals who partner with VA medical centers, as well as hospitals who focus on community- based training setting.
Today, March 19, is “Match Day,” when tens of thousands of medical students will find out where they will begin their residency training. Without a residency, they can’t go on to become a licensed physician in the United States. After four years of medical school, these graduates will spend typically three to five more years learning and practicing as residents in their desired specialties.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, medical schools and teaching hospitals were forced to rely on a patchwork of short-term solutions to ensure that their communities had access to needed health care—including graduating students early from medical schools, calling up retired physicians, and relocating physicians from other geographic regions to staff their inpatient units. As the immediate crisis subsides, demand for care will continue to far outpace supply as the nation’s population continues to grow and age, as well as the potential long-term term effects of COVID-19.
Each year, New Jersey has approximately 3,100 physician residents in training at 43 hospitals. At the same time, NJHA estimates that New Jersey has approximately 32 medical students and resident physicians in training per 100,000 residents compared to 81 and 62 in neighboring New York and Pennsylvania, respectively. According to data from the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA), a third of New Jersey’s practicing physicians are over 60 years-old, the third highest in the nation, and the state ranks 46th in the nation in the percentage of doctors under 40, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
“We applaud Senator Menendez for introducing the “Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021” to ensure that the future physician workforce meets the expected demand. With both an aging physician workforce and aging population in New Jersey, this legislation will help alleviate New Jersey’s significant physician shortage before it becomes our next public health crisis,” said Cathy Bennett, President and CEO of NJHA. “We commend Senator Menendez for his longstanding commitment to medical education, and for securing passage of legislation late last year that both lifts an out-of-date cap on graduate medical education (GME) slots, and increases the number of GME slots for the first time since 1997 by 1,000 per year.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the vital role that physicians and other health care providers play in our nation’s health care infrastructure. The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act would help expand the physician workforce to address the estimated shortage of physicians and serve as an essential component of our efforts to address current and future public health crises, as well as to bolster our nation’s health care infrastructure and ensure access to high-quality health care for all,” said David J. Skorton, MD, AAMC president and CEO. “The AAMC is committed to working with Senators Menendez and Boozman, and Senate Majority Leader Schumer, along with their Senate colleagues, to advance this critical piece of legislation that will help alleviate the doctor shortage and improve the health of people everywhere.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the nation’s worsening physician shortage and the critical importance of teaching hospitals and their mission to train medical residents,” said Greater New York Hospital Association President Kenneth E. Raske. “This important bill tackles the problem head-on by adding 14,000 Medicare-funded graduate medical education slots. The teaching hospital community thanks Senators Menendez, Schumer and Boozman for their leadership on this vital issue.”