New House and Senate bill aims to tackle primary care doctor shortage

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New legislation being pursued in the House and Senate would boost graduate medical education by $500 million through 2033. (Pixabay)

Congress is considering new legislation aimed at boosting funding for medical education with a goal of tackling a shortage of primary care doctors in underserved areas.

The Doctors of Community (DOC) Act introduced in the House of Representatives Tuesday and expected to be released in the Senate next week would permanently authorize the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program that aims to train primary care medical and dental doctors. The legislation would increase annual funding for more than $500 million per year from 2024 through 2033.

The goal of the legislation is to fund an additional 100 new medical education programs across the country and create roughly 1,600 new resident and physician slots, a major expansion of the program.

“We need more primary care physicians—that was true before this pandemic and its truer than ever now,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, lead sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, in a statement. “The Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program is a critical pipeline that not only trains healthcare providers but brings them to communities of color, tribal communities, rural communities and so many other underserved areas.”

Currently, funding for the program, which has remained stagnant, is set to expire in fiscal year 2023. The new bill would give over $500 million from 2024 through 2033 and call for a permanent authorization of funding in 2034.

Lawmakers behind the legislation say that the U.S. is facing a shortage of primary care providers “across the country, which will only continue to grow unless Congress acts,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey. “The DOC Act will help address this shortage by providing permanent reliable funding to train the next generation of primary care providers in some of the most medically underserved communities across the country.”

The COVID-19 pandemic will likely make a major impact on the physician workforce as early burnout could lead to more retirements in the short term, according to a report released last October from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The group’s report projected that by 2033, there will be a shortage of primary care physicians between 21,400 and 55,200 and a shortfall of specialists ranging between 33,700 and 86,700.