The House VA Health Subcommittee March 22 held a hearing titled Healthy Hiring: Enabling VA to Recruit and Retain Quality Providers. Witnesses included representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Government Accountability Office (GAO), and veterans service organizations. Much of the hearing focused on the retirement of VA physicians and pay disparity as barriers to effective recruitment. Several members of Congress requested the VA provide the nationwide physician vacancy data, including a breakdown by region and specialty.
In testimony, Robert Goldenkoff, director, Strategic Issues, GAO, discussed VA’s broad health mission from primary care to specialized services and said, “VHA is also a leader in medical research and the largest provider of health care training in the United States.”
Max Stier, president, Partnership for Public Service, cited AAMC’s 2016 physician workforce projections, noting, “The VHA contends for talent in a highly competitive labor pool for medical professionals that already faces serious shortages, with predictions of a shortfall of between 60,000 and 90,000 physicians by 2025.”
Louis J. Celli, Jr., director, National Veterans Affairs And Rehabilitation Division, The American Legion, raised the challenges of rural recruitment. He noted, “Some clinicians prefer to practice in more urban settings with more research opportunities and quality of life that urban settings provide.” He also highlighted the role of VA’s academic affiliates, “For almost sixty years, in accordance with VA`s 1946 Policy Memorandum No. 2, the VA has worked in partnership with this country`s medical and associated health profession schools to provide high quality health care to America`s veterans and to train new health professionals to meet the patient health care needs within VA and the nation. This partnership has grown into the most comprehensive academic health system partnership in American history.”
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) noted that the federal hiring freeze would affect administrative support for the VA’s Graduate Medical Education (GME) enhancement initiative, expressing concern that the VA had only awarded 300 of 1,500 authorized new GME positions. He continued to question the VA about their efforts to recruit foreign nationals and the impact of immigration executive orders.
The House of Representatives March 17 passed a bill introduced by Rep. Brad Wenstrup, DPM, (R-Ohio), who chairs the health subcommittee, to improve VA’s authority to hire and retain physicians (H.R. 1367) [see Washington Highlights, March 10].
Meanwhile, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) March 10 introduced a bill titled VA Health Care Provider Education Debt Relief Act (H.R. 1506), which would increase the VA’s Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP) from $120,000 to $150,000 over five years per participating physician.