The United States is facing a serious shortage of physicians, between 37,800 and 124,000 by 2034. This is largely due to a growing and aging population and the impending retirements of older physicians. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the vital role that physicians and all health care providers play in our nation’s health care infrastructure and has spotlighted the need for a larger physician workforce. Because it takes up to 10 years to train a doctor, looming shortages must be addressed now before they become inevitable.
Now more than ever, the nation must make a long-term investment in our health care and public health infrastructure. Congress must act quickly to address the physician shortage crisis. Until December 2020, Medicare’s support for training residents remained effectively frozen since 1997, due to caps on the number of medical residents that will be supported. While Medicare support is critical, the program covers only about 20% of the total costs of the training, with teaching hospitals, state funding, and other sources offsetting the rest.
The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021 (S. 834, H.R. 2256) is bipartisan legislation introduced by Sens. Menendez (D-N.J.) and Boozman (R-Ark.), and Democratic Leader Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Sewell (D-Ala.), Katko (R-N.Y.), Suozzi (D-N.Y.), and Davis (R-Ill.). The legislation would expand the number of federally-supported medical residency positions by 2,000 annually for seven years, directly addressing the growing physician shortage and improving health care access for all.
The Opioid Workforce Act of 2021 (S. 1438), introduced by Sens. Hassan (D-N.H.) and Collins (R-Maine), and the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Act (H.R. 3441), introduced by Reps. Schneider (D-Ill.), McKinley (R-W.V.), and Kuster (D-N.H.), are a targeted and important step for Congress to help ensure a robust physician workforce that can deliver high-quality care to those suffering from substance abuse disorders. The bills would provide 1,000 new Medicare-supported graduate medical education training positions over five years in hospitals that have or are establishing accredited residency programs in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, or pain medicine.
Congress should pass the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021, the Opioid Workforce Act of 2021, and the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Act. These bipartisan bills would responsibly expand Medicare-support for GME by increasing the number of Medicare-supported residency positions. While this increase will not fully address the the nation’s projected need is an important component and step in addressing the physician shortage.