Congressman Crowley Introduces Legislation to Address Looming Doctor Shortage and Ensure Access to Care

Sep 28, 2012 Issues: Health Care

(Queens, N.Y.) – Today, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx) announced he has introduced the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2012 (H.R. 6562), legislation that would expand the current cap on the number of Medicare-supported training slots for doctors, helping to ensure teaching hospitals can meet the growing demands for physicians as our nation faces a looming doctor shortage.

By 2020 the nation is expected to face a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians and 46,000 surgeons and medical specialists, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges – a stunning shortage of more than 91,000 doctors.

“We face a cruel irony: retiring baby boomers and the newly-insured, now covered through the Affordable Care Act, will be accessing our health care system in greater numbers, but we won’t have nearly enough doctors on-the-ready to deliver the health care services they’ll need,” said Rep. Crowley. “A doctor shortage is something we just can’t ignore. Medical schools have responded by expanding enrollment numbers, but it’s time for Congress to act so these new medical students can be fully trained. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to lift the outdated cap on the number of new doctors our teaching hospitals can train.”

Crowley’s legislation would increase the number of Medicare-supported hospital residency positions by 15,000 (3,000 slots per year, over five years), bringing the total number of slots available to approximately 102,000. This increase would give New York hospitals the ability to train about 500 new doctors. Crowley’s legislation also places an emphasis on expanding residency slots in primary care and other specialties necessary to meet the needs of a growing population.

Medicare and Medicaid graduate medical education (GME) funding reimburses teaching hospitals for the additional costs incurred as a result of training physicians. Congress has long acknowledged the burdensome costs associated with training our future doctors, and the federal government has supported its share of the costs through GME funding. However, current federal Medicare rules place an outdated cap on the number of residents New York City hospitals and hospitals across the country are able to train without being penalized millions in Medicare funding. 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. Fifteen years later, this cap has not been lifted or adjusted, despite dramatic population growth and an impending doctor shortage.

“Raising the resident cap is a critical first step in addressing the doctor shortage; however, we must also ensure our teaching hospitals have all the resources they need to develop a highly trained physician workforce,” continued Crowley. “Teaching hospitals have taken on a great deal of responsibility, but they need the support of Congress and adequate federal funding to continue. This is a nationwide problem and the path to ensuring all Americans have access to high-quality, well-trained physicians is through the strengthening of GME programs.”

Using state-of-the-art equipment and the most sophisticated medical procedures, teaching hospitals are fulfilling the critical mission of training the next generation of doctors – success that would be put at risk without strong graduate medical education programs. In New York alone, the state’s teaching hospitals train one out of six of the nation’s doctors. Across the country, there are seventeen states with more than 10% of their active physicians trained by New York institutions.

Teaching hospitals are also engines of economic growth, generating over $512 billion and supporting 3.4 million jobs nationwide. 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. Combined, New York hospitals pay more than $4.7 billion in state and local personal income and sales taxes. Failing to maintain strong physician training programs will as a result have a significant impact not only on patient care throughout the country, but also on jobs and economic growth.

The bill is supported by the Association of American Medical Colleges, Greater New York Hospital Association, and the Healthcare Association of New York State, among other leading national organizations.

“This bill will help ensure that teaching hospitals across the country can train a robust, desperately needed physician workforce that will deliver high-quality patient care for decades to come,” said Greater New York Hospital Association president Kenneth E. Raske. “We are extremely grateful to Representative Crowley for introducing this important legislation, and for recognizing that America’s looming physician shortage must be addressed right now.”

“A true leader in health care, Congressman Joe Crowley with this legislation would help alleviate the critical physician shortage throughout our state, ensuring greater access to health care services for all New Yorkers. This bill would also help protect New York’s academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, which provide cutting-edge care and serve as the safety net in their communities,” said Daniel Sisto, President, Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS), which represents hospitals and health systems throughout New York State.

Congressman Crowley is the seven-term representative from the 7th Congressional District of New York, which includes sections of Queens and the Bronx. He is a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and serves as a Chief Deputy Whip in the House of Representatives.