Heller sponsoring bills to address doctor shortage

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller has joined with several other U.S. senators to introduce bills to address the looming shortage of doctors in the coming decade, particularly in rural areas.

According to a study released in March by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States is facing a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030, because the number of new physicians is not keeping pace with the demands of a growing and aging population. Though the population is expected to grow by 12 percent by 2030, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to increase by 55 percent and the number of people aged 75 and older should grow by 73 percent.

One of the bills being co-sponsored by Heller is the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act. There is a similarly named bill pending in the House.

In a press release Heller said this bill would increase the number of Medicare-supported hospital residency positions by 15,000 to address the coming shortage of doctors and to try to keep new graduates from Nevada’s medical schools in Nevada and rural Nevada in particular.

“While the number of medical school graduates from Nevada’s universities continues to rise, the state does not currently have enough residency positions to keep pace with those graduates in Nevada,” said Heller. “The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act increases the number of hospital residency positions available to address the doctor shortage, particularly in our rural communities, and improve the quality of care patients receive.”

According to AAMC data from 2014, Nevada ranked 47th among the states in the ratio of doctors to population. Nevada had 197.4 doctors per 100,000 population compared to 265.5 nationally.

According to a news account in the Las Vegas newspaper this past November, the number of doctors per capita in rural Nevada actually declined by nearly 10 percent between 2004 and 2014.

“Those problems are aggravated in rural areas that have always struggled to recruit and retain or keep those types of professionals in their facilities and their communities,” John Packham, director of health policy research in the state’s rural health office, was quoted as saying.

The other bill being pushed by Heller is dubbed the Advancing Medical Resident Training in Community Hospitals Act. The is intended to make it easier for hospitals to start full-time residency programs by fixing a flaw in current law that prevents hospitals that have previously accepted part-time medical residents from establishing their own full-time, Medicare-supported residency programs.

“The Advancing Medical Resident Training in Community Hospitals Act aims to address the physician shortage in Nevada’s rural communities by giving community hospitals more flexibility to rotate residents,” Heller sad. “By making it easier for Nevada’s hospitals to train the next generation of physicians, our bill will increase access to care for Nevadans living in these communities.”

Though there will be a price tag on these bills, the added health care availability is well worth it. — TM

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