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Senator Says U.S. Could Have Physician Shortage of More Than 100,000 by 2030; Physician Shortage Crisis is Only Getting Worse and CNY Communities Will Pay the Price for Generations to Come

Congress Should Be Doing Everything Possible To Address Severe Doctor Shortage That Is Already Putting Patient Care At Risk, Must Act Now To Reverse Course Before It’s Too Late; Urges Senate to Pass Doctor Shortage Bill

Schumer: Congress Must Help Alleviate Central New York’s Doctor Shortage

Joined by local doctors, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today launched a major effort to urge his colleagues in both the Senate and House of Representatives to immediately pass the Physician Shortage Act of 2018. Schumer explained that this critical legislation will add 15,000 more Medicare-supported residency training slots for doctors, helping to ensure teaching hospitals can train enough physicians to meet the growing demand for physicians as our nation is already in the midst of a doctor shortage. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. is expected to face a shortage of up to 43,100 primary care physicians and 61,800 specialty physicians by 2030.

"While we have tremendous doctors providing amazing care here at Oneida Healthcare, it is also apparent that we no longer have as many physicians as we need here in Central New York," said Senator Schumer. "This goes from primary care physicians that are often the first phone call we make when we are feeling sick to OB/GYNs that protect and advance women’s health to specialty physicians. Unfortunately, here in Madison County, our hospitals and community health centers are struggling to provide enough doctors to meet the needs of our growing population. With many new residents on their way to their post, this time of year is a perfect reminder that we must give these young medical professionals every incentive to work in rural communities in Upstate New York and beyond.”

Schumer's push comes amidst an increasing doctor shortage in Central New York and across New York State.  A recent survey of hospitals by the Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS) found that: 71 percent of respondents said their current primary care capacity is insufficient to meet current patient needs, with 77 percent reporting a deficit to meet future needs. 81 percent of respondents indicated that primary care physicians are very difficult to recruit, while 84 percent indicated that recruitment of primary care physicians is one of their critical strategies for improving access to care. 72 percent of respondents indicated that their ability to recruit primary care physicians remained the same or worsened, and 86 percent of upstate hospitals report that there are times when they have to transfer patients from the emergency department because the care they need is not available.

Schumer continued, "That is why I am proud to co-sponsor The Resident Physician Shortage Act and why, throughout my senate career, I have worked to identify solutions to the alarming problem of doctor shortages. This bill tackles the doctor shortage head-on by creating 15,000 new residency training slots nationwide and prioritizing those slots for communities that need them most.”

Additionally, a recent major report for the Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWSNY) found that providers are unevenly distributed across New York. Central New York has one of the lowest rates of family and general practice physicians in the state, with only one primary care doctor for every 1,330 people.

Nearby, Onondaga County has 25 percent more primary physicians than Madison County. Oneida Healthcare currently has 4 primary care physician openings and 2 OBGYN vacancies. They will also need an additional 12 doctors to meet future demand and replace retirees. Schumer said it is clear Central New York needs more doctors in the region, particularly in Madison County. Schumer said the health outcomes in Central New York, which has a higher rate of cancer deaths than the upstate average, a higher rate of teen births than the upstate average and a higher rate of infant deaths than the upstate average, speak to the critical need for more physicians in Central New York.

Additionally, hospitals in the Central New York region have reported difficulty recruiting and retaining various types of mental health professionals, including psychologists, substance abuse counselors, psychiatric nurse practitioners and licensed mental health counselors. There is less than half of the rate of psychiatrists in Central New York as there is in New York City and the Hudson Valley. At a time when the opioid epidemic and addiction are ravaging the country, and 1 in 5 Americans experience a mental illness in a given year, Schumer said this is not a problem that Congress can afford to ignore.  

The "Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act" (S. 1301), introduced by Senator Bill Nelson, tackles this problem head-on by boosting the number of residency slots that teaching hospitals can offer to new physicians. Currently, Medicare provides funding for hospitals to host a specific number of residents at a given time through Graduate Medical Education (GME) funding. This legislation would allow Medicare to fund an additional 3,000 slots each year for five years. Schumer added that, since 2002, medical school enrollment has increased nearly 30 percent but the 1997 cap on Medicare support for graduate medical education GME restricted the ability of teaching hospitals to properly train this potential influx of new doctors.

Medicare, through its GME payment system, compensates teaching hospitals for the costs directly related to training residents. Medicare does not make payments related to the education of medical students. Schumer said the cost to hospitals of training a resident averages $100,000 or more a year, of which Medicare covers roughly 40 percent of that total.

The bill would enhance America's health care infrastructure by expanding the number of Medicare-supported physician residency training positions. Half of these new residency slots would be used for resident training in a shortage specialty residency program. Priority is given to hospitals in states with new medical schools, hospitals that have hit their resident limit, hospitals that work with the Veterans Administration (VA), hospitals that emphasize training in community-based settings or in hospital outpatient departments; Hospitals not located in a rural area and operate an approved “rural track” program.

Additionally, hospitals in states that emphasize training in community-based settings, or hospital outpatient departments would also receive preference when applying for additional slots to host physician residents. Schumer noted that, given New York's physician shortage and its focus on community health center-based care, the state could be well positioned to receive a number of the slots the legislation would create. 

Schumer also touted recent wins the in the omnibus that would improve the number of physicians and other providers in the area. Previously, the administration proposed cutting the GME program by $40 billion. Schumer said he fought back against these cuts because communities across Upstate New York are already lacking physicians and argued that cuts to the programs could exacerbate the situation. The omnibus deal also includes a $3.3 billion investment in beating back the opioid epidemic, which includes $415 billion in funding for the Health Resources and Services Administration to create more access to addiction and mental health treatment in underserved areas and goes towards funding for Community Health Centers.