Bill Would Create More Medical-Residency Slots, Potentially Easing Physician Shortage

August 06, 2012

Legislation introduced in Congress on Monday would expand the number of Medicare-sponsored training slots for new doctors by 15,000, a step that two medical-education groups said would go a long way toward easing a projected shortage of physicians.

The bill, the Physician Shortage Reduction and Graduate Medical Education Accountability and Transparency Act (HR 6352), is sponsored by Rep. Aaron Schock, an Illinois Republican, and Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

Medical schools have been expanding their enrollments and new schools have been opening up as concerns have grown about a shortage that could reach more than 90,000 physicians by 2020, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Those worries have intensified with passage of the Affordable Care Act, which will greatly increase the number of people seeking medical care by providing insurance coverage to 32 million more people.

But while more students are making their way through the medical-school pipeline, they're likely to run into bottlenecks because of a cap on the number of Medicare-supported residency training slots that Congress imposed in 1997.

After graduating from medical school, new doctors have to spend three to seven years in residency programs, training under a more-senior physician's supervision, before they can practice on their own.

The legislation introduced this week would produce 4,000 more doctors per year, about a third of the estimated number needed to avert a shortage, according to the AAMC.

It would also establish measures to show how well residency programs meet a number of objectives, including training doctors in a variety of both in-patient and out-patient settings, using health-information technology, and working in interdisciplinary teams.

Darrell G. Kirch, president and chief executive officer of the AAMC, said in a written statement that the legislation represents "the beginning of a comprehensive strategy to make sure Americans have access to the care they need."

The association's chief public policy officer, Atul Grover, said that getting legislation approved in a fiscally-tight election year would be difficult, but that he hopes the bill's provisions could be wrapped into broader legislation that would deal with Medicare and physician reimbursements rates.

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine also welcomed the legislation. "The shortage of physicians in our health-care system, particularly in primary care, is nothing short of a national crisis," Stephen Shannon, president and chief executive officer said in a written statement.