Groups Push For More Medical Residencies

Compiled By Staff
January 12, 2010

The American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges are trying to persuade legislators to increase the number of medical residency training positions that Medicare will support.

Currently, the federal government pays for 100,000 residencies through Medicare; the groups are pushing for an additional 15,000. They point out that such a move will help address a looming physician shortage which is expected to worsen with the impending healthcare overhaul.

"Do the math," said Steven M. Safyer, president and CEO of Montefiore Medical Center in New York, who was quoted in Business Week. "You give millions more people insurance, and it adds up to a much worse shortage."

Dr. Atul Grover, AAMC's chief advocacy officer, agreed. "We're going to have a really hard time taking care of everyone if we don't produce more doctors," he was quoted as saying in Dedham, Massachusetts' Daily News Transcript.

The proposal to increase residencies was voted down by the Senate before passing the health care reform bill. But association officials are still hoping that the final reform bill will include the additional slots for residencies. If not, the medical associations want the proposal passed as a separate bill.

The shortage of physicians is already being felt. Business Week reports that according to the U.S. Health & Human Services Department, there were close to 17,000 less primary care doctors than needed in inner-city and rural areas. In addition, the AAMC predicted that by 2025, there will be a shortage of nearly 160,000 physicians.

Nevertheless, not everyone is convinced that the proposal is a good one. Critics say that increasing residency slots would add billions to the national health care bill, and would not necessarily result in the training of more primary care physicians.

"Our national problem is that primary care doctors are leaving their practices in droves, driven out by their low pay (relative to that of specialists), long hours and mountains of paperwork," writes Shannon Brownlee and David Goodman in an opinion piece in The New York Times. "The idea that there's a supply-side solution to this problem is a little like thinking you can fill a bucket with holes in the bottom by pouring in more water."

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