In the News

U.S Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, is supporting the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act, which aims to increase the amount of residency programs available for medical students.

Currently, there is a cap on the amount of residency program positions that Medicare can fund and this bill would raise that cap. Boozman said the cap needs to be raised because it limits the number of physicians in Arkansas.

“As you graduate from medical school, you need to find a spot in a residency program. Sadly there’s not enough of those,” Boozman said in an interview. “As a result, you might have individuals who simply get through medical school and can’t find a residency and have to wait until one opens. All the while, we’ve got a huge shortage in medical providers.”

Dr. Stephanie Gardner, provost of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), said raising the cap would be helpful for UAMS.

“Anything beyond the cap, UAMS funds a number of those residency slots, so any increase ultimately leads to a number of positions,” she said.

Gardner said UAMS is 147 slots over the cap, which she said cost UAMS about $10 million each year. She said the school has a goal of adding 200 slots.

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GOA), for most hospitals Medicare has a cap on the number of residency program slots it will provide based on the number of residents it funded in 1996. The GOA’s report from 2021 found that 70% of hospitals trained more residents than what Medicare funded.

Boozman said the bill would lift the cap and allow Medicare to fund an additional 14,000 residency program slots over the next seven years.

According to the GAO, $15 billion was used by Medicare to support residency programs in 2018, which are the latest figures available by GAO. Boozman said the training that is provided to students can be costly.

“There are individuals that have a lot of training under supervision, as they go forward in their careers and there are costs involved. The federal government is stepping in and taking care of most of the costs,” he said.

With the growing shortage of physicians in the state and around the country, Boozman said it is important for this bill to pass. He added about 40% of the physicians in Arkansas are 60 years old or older.

“Not only do we have a problem now, we’re going to have a huge problem in the next 10 years,” he said.

Ashley Warren, communications director for the Arkansas Hospital Association, said the organization supports the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act. In an email, she said with the financial strains hospitals are facing, they have limited resources to recruit and retain physicians.

“With many unfilled positions – and a continuing (and worsening) shortage of healthcare professionals in the state – many hospitals are forced to rely upon travel agency staffing, and those costs remain more than 50% greater than in January 2020,” Warren said.

Like Boozman, Bo Ryall, president & CEO of the Arkansas Hospital Association, said there could be a shortage of physicians in the future in Arkansas.

“These projected shortfalls pose a significant threat to the health and wellness of our communities and, frankly, to the stability of our state. We must not take our excellent health care workforce for granted. This problem will not be solved quickly or by hospitals alone, but we owe to the coming generations to take aggressive action to meet this challenge,” he said.

Warren said new physicians are most likely to practice in the area where they did their residency and for a small and rural state like Arkansas this is essential for recruiting and retaining physicians.

During the interview, Boozman noted that the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act does have bipartisan support. Among the supporters of the bill is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

“At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Yorkers joined together every night to cheer for medical workers and thank them for their sacrifice. Three years later, our healthcare system has been severely strained and our country is facing an alarming doctor shortage, especially in rural and underserved communities. It is critical that we provide the support needed to recruit, train and retain doctors in all parts of our healthcare system so all citizens have access to high-quality healthcare,” Schumer said in a press release.

If the bill passes in the Senate, it will also need approval from the U.S House of Representatives and for President Joe Biden to sign into law to take effect.

Read the KUAR story here