On May 30, representatives Raul Ruiz, M.D., D-CA, and Phil Roe, M.D., R-TN, introduced H.R. 2815, the “Training the Next Generation of Primary Care Doctors Act.”
This bipartisan legislation is intended to improve rural communities’ access to physicians. The bill reauthorizes and expands the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program to address the physician shortage facing communities across the country.
“Too many of our friends, family members, and neighbors are forced to suffer without the health care they need due to a shortage of doctors,” said Ruiz in the press release. “As an emergency medicine physician, I have seen firsthand the dire effects of a lack of providers in underserved areas in our local communities.”
The Inland Empire has the lowest physician-to-resident ratio in all of California. Studies indicate that areas in the Coachella Valley have only one full-time equivalent physician per 9,000 residents, compared to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s recommended ratio of one physician to 2,000 people. The shortage has many root causes, including an aging physician population and the tendency of medical residents to train and practice in more urban areas.
According to the California Health Care Foundation, 36 percent of active physicians are over age 60, and will be retiring or limiting time with patients. The THCGMEP was originally established in 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was enacted. It funds residency positions at community-based primary care settings, many of which serve rural and underserved populations. Many medical students go on to serve the communities where they practice medicine; residency programs that train in Federally Qualified Health Centers have helped address physician shortages in low-income regions across the country.
“Our country is facing a significant shortage of providers in the coming years, and it’s clearly time for an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to create as many opportunities as possible to train qualified young physicians to care for our rapidly aging population,” said Roe.
H.R. 2815, the bill Ruiz and Roe introduced, addresses the anticipated physician shortage. It reauthorizes the THCGMEP, increases funding for existing Teaching Healthy Centers, and provides more than $100 million in new funding to establish new teaching health centers across the country.
Data from the most recent academic year shows that more than half the physicians who received THCGMEP residency support continue to practice in underserved communities and 20 percent practice in rural communities. Only 26 percent of graduates from traditional post-medical school programs remain in underserved communities and 8 percent serve rural areas.