Lawmakers introduce bill to fund more medical residency slots to combat physician shortage, opioid crisis

Senate and House lawmakers introduced a bill that would fund 1,000 additional medical residency positions in the next five years to address an anticipated physician shortage and to combat the ongoing opioid crisis.

The Opioid Workforce Act of 2019 (S. 2892/H.R. 3414) would fund additional Medicare-supported graduate medical education positions in hospitals that have or are in the process of establishing approved residency programs in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry or pain management.

The bill is being led in the House by Representatives Brad Schneider, D-Illinois; Susan Brooks, R-Indiana; Elise Stefanik, R-New York; and Ann Kuster, D-New Hampshire; and in the Senate by Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Funding these new residency positions would significantly strengthen the health care workforce that serves on the front lines of the opioid epidemic and improve patient access to care, David Skorton, M.D., Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) president and CEO, said in a statement.

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A bill introduced earlier this year, the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2019, is also awaiting action in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It would gradually provide 15,000 Medicare-supported residency positions over a five-year period starting in 2021.

The AAMC projects that by 2032, the demand for physicians in both primary and specialty care will outpace supply by up to 121,900 physicians, primarily as a result of an aging population with increasing health care needs.

While U.S. medical school enrollment has increased, averting a physician shortage now depends on more residency training slots, according to the results of an annual survey from AAMC.

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The number of residency positions has increased only 1% a year, far lower than the 52% growth in medical school spots since 2002, the AAMC said. Federally supported residency training slots have been capped by Congress for more than 20 years, limiting the spots for medical school graduates to undergo additional training in a residency program before they can practice medicine.

"As communities across the country continue to deal with the devastating effects of substance use disorders and chronic pain, we enthusiastically thank Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) for introducing the Opioid Workforce Act of 2019," Skorton said. "This targeted and necessary approach to addressing the opioid epidemic will help patients access the care they need by increasing the number of physicians specifically trained to care for patients with substance use disorders."

In 2018, only 11% of individuals with a substance use disorder received treatment and 50 million Americans battled chronic pain, according to AAMC.