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Washington Highlights

Physician Shortage Legislation Introduced as Conferees Meet on VA Backlog Bill

June 27, 2014— Representatives Ami Bera, M.D., (D-Calif.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) June 24 introduced the Doctors Helping Heroes Act (H.R. 4951) to “help shorten wait times at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals across the country by dealing with the serious shortage of doctors that they’re facing.” The bill would “allow foreign doctors trained in the U.S. to practice at VA hospitals where they are sorely needed.”

H.R. 4951 expands the Conrad State 30 J-1 visa waiver program by providing an additional five waivers for states in which the Secretary of Veterans Affairs determines VA facilities lack the ability to provide timely access to care or the necessary trained personnel.

The bill is similar to immigration reform legislation Reps. Bera and Meadows introduced in 2013, the Conrad State 30 and Physicians Access Act (H.R. 2484), which was supported by AAMC, American Medical Association (AMA), and American Hospital Association (AHA) [see Washington Highlights, July 12, 2013].

Meanwhile, Representatives Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), and Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) June 23 introduced the Underserved Veterans Access to Health Care Act (H.R. 4942) to increase the number of graduate medical education residency positions at VA hospitals. In a press statement citing nationwide physician workforce shortages, the sponsors note that the bill will add “2000 medical residency positions at VA hospitals in select communities that are lacking doctors.”

The measure builds on growth in VA residency programs under the GME Enhancement Initiative, which has added nearly 1500 trainee positions since 2006.

House and Senate conferees June 24 met for the first time on legislation to address VA’s backlogs in patient care services, in part by allowing veterans more access to care at non-VA facilities [see Washington Highlights, June 13]. With the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring the measure at $50 billion a year ― an estimate contested by many lawmakers ― conferees continued to struggle to find agreement on whether to pay for the measure through emergency funding or with offsets.

On the same day as the conference, Senator Tom Coburn, M.D., (R-Okla.), a conferee, released an oversight report titled “Friendly Fire: Death, Delay, and Dismay at the VA,” which criticizes VA mismanagement and financial waste. In a section titled “The VA Cannot Hire Its Way Out of Its Shortage of Doctors,” Dr. Coburn advocates opening all hospitals to veterans. Of note, the section states:

  • “Doctors are already in short supply throughout many parts of the country”
  • “the Department faces a shortage of more than just primary doctors”; and

  • “non-VA health providers are willing to do their part to serve veterans.”


Matthew Shick, JD
Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs
Telephone: 202-862-6116

Len Marquez
Director, Government Relations
Telephone: 202-862-6281


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Washington Highlights, a weekly electronic newsletter, features brief updates on the latest legislative and regulatory activities affecting medical schools and teaching hospitals.

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Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806