Senators introduce bipartisan bill to boost residency slots by 14,000 from 2025-2031

A bipartisan group of influential senators have reintroduced a bill Wednesday increasing the number of Medicare-supported residency positions in a bid to stem the country’s looming workforce shortage.

The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act brought by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and co-sponsored by Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would add an average 2,000 Medicare-funded graduate medical education (GME) slots per year from 2025 to 2031, for a total of 14,000.

Legislation targeting the same was introduced last month in the House by Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted and exacerbated the nation’s shortage of primary and specialty care physicians, particularly in underserved and rural areas,” Menendez said in a release. “This bill will ensure that the urgent need to bolster physician training is met in order to provide for the diverse and growing healthcare necessities of Americans throughout the country.”

The number of GME positions would steadily increase over the seven-year period and would prioritize additions among hospitals located in states that have new medical schools, hospitals training new doctors over their current caps, hospitals in rural areas and hospitals that serve areas designated as having a shortage of health professionals, according to the bill’s text (PDF).

The bill also instructs the U.S. Comptroller General to conduct a study of potential strategies for increasing the diversity of the healthcare workforce, which would be due to Congress within two years of the legislation’s enactment.

“In the midst of growing demand for medical treatments and services, our country continues to face a shortage of trained physicians. It is critical that we bridge the gap,” Collins said in a release. “This bipartisan legislation would support critical training opportunities needed to alleviate the physician shortage and improve access to healthcare, particularly in rural or underserved communities, which in turn promotes healthier lives.”

A bill targeting the same 14,000 additional GME slots was introduced last month in the House by Sewell Fitzpatrick. Both pieces of legislation have picked up support from hospital and medical training organizations, including the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

“As the U.S. population increases and continues to age, requiring more medical care, it is critical to ensure there are enough physicians to provide care for patients who need it,” AAMC President and CEO David Skorton, M.D., and Chief Public Policy Officer Danielle Turnipseed, said in a joint statement applauding the bill. “Additionally, as many physicians near traditional retirement age, there is an urgent need to educate and train more doctors to help ensure there are enough physicians to care for patients in communities across our country. It is vital that Congress ensures the physician workforce is able to adequately grow with federal support.”

AAMC has reported that the country is on track for a shortage of anywhere from 37,000 to 124,000 primary care and specialty physicians by 2034.

Federally supported residency training slots had been capped for more than 20 years until 1,000 new positions were included in the FY21 appropriations law and phased in this year.

Lawmakers have had an eye on increasing the supply of physicians and other healthcare roles currently in high demand.

In February members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee floated reduced education requirements for nursing educators alongside National Health Services Corps loan debt forgiveness or the expanded residency slots introduced this week.

During a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing last week, representatives also highlighted their support for several proposed bills that would extend funding for the National Health Service Corps and the Teaching Health Centers GME.