Gardner Authors Legislation to Bring More Doctors to Rural Areas in Colorado
Washington, DC – Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) today introduced the Rural Physician Workforce Production Act. This legislation will help address the dramatically growing physician shortage in rural areas in Colorado and across the country. The Rural Physician Workforce Production Act reforms the Graduate Medical Education (GME) program to ensure that medical residents have the same opportunity to practice in rural areas as they do in urban areas.
Rural areas across our state are feeling the impacts of a growing shortage of physicians in their communities. We can do better to help address this problem and to ensure these areas are not left behind. I authored this legislation to help provide more physicians to rural communities because Coloradans access to quality healthcare should not be determined by their zip code. — said Gardner
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 (HRSA), 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 counter parts when it comes to accepting residents in order to recruit and retain the next generation of doctors. The Rural Physician Workforce Production Act works to address this issue by establishing a national per resident payment amount in order to make accepting residents a financially viable option for rural hospitals.
Additionally, many urban and rural hospitals have partnered to effectively promote rural training by establishing rural training track programs. However, current laws restrict 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 in order to produce more rural physicians.
Beyond primary care needs, there is also a significant deficit of specialty care doctors practicing in rural areas. In Colorado, there are approximately 150 specialists per 100,000 as compared with 65 specialists per 100,000 in rural communities. This leads to residents of underserved communities driving significant distances to access care in more urban centers. This legislation aims to close this gap and increase access by allowing residents in all medical specialties to gain exposure to practicing in a rural area in eight week periods or longer. This is necessary because oftentimes residents in medical specialties are confined to completing their residency in an urban center because they need to meet patient mix requirements.
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