- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2013

Five members of Congress reintroduced a bill Monday that takes on the nation’s shortage of primary-care doctors by increasing the number of government-funded training slots at teaching hospitals.

Three Democratic senators and a pair of New York congressmen — Democrat Joe Crowley and Republican Michael Grimm — pointed to research that says the country will need 45,000 more primary care physicians and 46,000 surgeons and medical specialists by 2020.

Their legislation, the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2013, would increase the number of Medicare-supported hospital residency positions by 15,000, or 3,000 per year over five years. In touting the companion bills, lawmakers said current Medicare rules keep an outdated cap from 1997 on the number of resident doctors a hospital may train through government-backed graduate medical eduction (GME) funding.

The shortage of primary care doctors, in particular, has been a festering problem, with many medical students entering lucrative specialty fields to pay off student debt from medical schools. Medical students tend to see primary care as less groundbreaking or prestigious than specialty fields, lawmakers said at a hearing last month at which Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent, presided.

Mr. Sanders, chairman of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, held the hearing to explore how the lack of primary care options will affect the 30 million Americans who will acquire insurance next year under the Affordable Care Act.

On Monday, Mr. Grimm noted the problem will “only be exacerbated as more baby boomers age into Medicare.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada joined fellow Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Chuck Schumer of New York in rolling out the Senate bill.