High Plains Journal
Legislation introduced to bring doctors to rural areas
U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, R-CO, Jon Tester, D-MT, and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-MS, recently introduced the Rural Physician Workforce Production Act. This bipartisan legislation aims to address the growing shortage of physicians in rural communities all across the country. The Rural Physician Workforce Production Act alters the Graduate Medical Education program to provide medical students with the opportunity to practice in a rural area, with the goal of recruiting the next generation of rural doctors.
“In Colorado and across the nation, rural areas are feeling the pain of driving significant distances as a result of the growing shortage of physicians in these underserved communities,” said Gardner. “The greatest indicator of where a doctor will practice is the location of their residency and this common sense legislation helps level the playing field for Graduate Medical Education to ensure doctors are being recruited and retained in rural areas too.”
“The shortage of doctors in rural America threatens the future of frontier communities in Montana,” Tester said. “If we want more doctors to practice in rural areas, we need to train them in rural areas—and this bill will help build a stronger pipeline of medical residents from universities to our rural hospitals.”
“The hardships faced by hospitals in rural communities continue to grow in Mississippi and other rural states. This measure is a sensible reform that can help rural hospitals attract physicians,” Hyde-Smith said. “I will work with Senator Gardner and my colleagues in the Senate to advance this legislation, which has the potential to have long-term benefits for rural America.”
This legislation will help increase access by allowing residents in all medical specialties to gain practice in rural areas. Many urban and rural hospitals have partnered to effectively promote rural training by establishing rural training track programs. However, current law restricts the ability of hospitals to expand these programs. The Rural Physician Workforce Production Act addresses this issue by eliminating caps on urban and rural hospitals that have prevented them from expanding or creating new rural training track programs.
What’s the challenge?
The GME program was established as a way for the federal government to support medical residency training to ensure physician supply and access to care. However, the program has fallen short of keeping this promise and has not provided a sufficient physician supply to rural areas. According to the Health Resources and Service Administration, a mere 57 percent of the country lives in a geographic region that is having its primary care needs met.
How will the Rural Physician Workforce Production Act work to fix it?
One of the greatest indicators of where a doctor will practice is the location of their residency. However, current caps and other limitations on rural residency programs have put rural America at a significant disadvantage compared to their urban counterparts when it comes to accepting residents in order to recruit and retain the next generation of doctors. The Rural Physician Workforce Production Act would address this issue by establishing a national per resident payment amount in order to make accepting residents a financially viable option for rural hospitals.