August 04, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Workforce Professional Development & Education
Two important bills have been introduced in Congress to address our state’s serious physician shortage and improve access to care in California.
The first bill, the Training the Next Generation of Primary Care Doctors Act of 2017 (HR 3394), would reauthorize for an additional three years the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (GME) program that was established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Teaching Health Center program is a community-based primary care physician training program that has been extremely successful in expanding the physician workforce in underserved areas. This bill would also expand the number of residency positions available within existing teaching health centers and establish sustainable funding. This bill has bipartisan cosponsorship by California Congressmen Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-Palm Springs), Jeff Denham (R-Modesto) and David Valadao (R-Fresno).
The second bill, the Comprehensive Additional Residency Expansion Act (HR 3451), introduced by Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Modesto) and sponsored by the California Medical Association (CMA), would build on HR 3394. The Teaching Health Center GME program currently supports 742 residents at 59 teaching health centers. This bill would add an additional 240 residency slots to train new physicians and authorize 10 new teaching health centers. It would also require the new teaching health centers be located in areas with a disproportionate share of Medicaid patients to help alleviate physician shortages and access to care in underserved regions.
These bills are critically important because California is experiencing a severe shortage of primary care physicians, particularly in the rural and Central Valley regions of the state. Our state has one of the lowest primary care physician to patient ratios in the nation. Only 10 percent of physicians practice in rural areas nationwide, although 25 percent of the population resides in these regions.
Training more physicians to meet the growing demands of an aging population with multiple chronic conditions is a CMA priority. We support efforts to encourage more physicians to practice in underserved areas to improve access to care. The underserved Central Valley region of California in particular has experienced difficulty attracting and retaining physicians.
Data shows that most physicians set down roots in the areas where they train and remain there after their training to care for their communities. These two bills will help to create a new generation of rural physicians and ensure that patients in those areas have access to essential preventive and primary care to diagnose and treat health problems early.
These are important bills that represent a practical approach to improving the physician shortage crisis and access to care challenges in California’s underserved areas.