A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Congress addresses a long-time concern of Indian-American physicians by dealing with the absence of primary care physicians in rural and other underserved areas.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Indiana, and Indian-American Rep. Ami Bera, D-California, a physician by training, have introduced bipartisan legislation that would produce high quality data on where general surgeons are in short supply around the country.
Foreign medical graduates, a large number of them from India, have played a key role over decades, in meeting some of this challenge of shortage in general surgeons in rural and inner-city communities. The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin has repeatedly called on lawmakers at every opportunity, to increase medical residency slots, to improve the conditions for doctors working in underserved areas, and to speed up paperwork to allow more foreign-trained physicians to come to this country. In the most recent AAPI Legislative Day, Indian-American physicians presented a white paper pointing to this concern among others, to the nearly 30 U.S. lawmakers who attended their event on Capitol Hill.
By introducing S. 1351 in the Senate and H.R. 2906 in the House, bills that would track the areas in critical need of GPs, the lawmakers are making this a high priority for the healthcare system which is currently undergoing changes in the hands of the Senate majority in the GOP. The Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act of 2017 is identical in the Senate and House. If passed, it would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a study on the designation of general surgery shortage areas. Such an area is an urban, suburban or rural area of the United States with a population underserved by general surgeons. “High quality, impartial data should consider health outcomes, utilization trends, growing and aging populations and delivery system needs, which all have an effect on surgeon demands,” according to the lawmakers.
“We need to prepare today to avoid serious physician shortages in the future,” Rep. Bera is quoted saying in a press release issued by Grassley June 16. “We know that our current supply of surgeons will not be able to keep pace with a growing and aging population. This bill will help us understand which areas are most in need and how we can best target effective solutions so that every American has access to high quality care regardless of where they live.”
“If you have an accident on a farm in rural Iowa, there are usually no general surgeons available nearby to treat you,” Grassley said. “You need a general surgeon to find any hidden injuries and perform the surgery to treat them,”
Sen. Grassley said the bill would help determine exactly where those doctors are needed the most, and thus help policymakers and the medical community make targeted placements to achieve the best results.
Schatz echoed these views saying, “This bill will shine a bright light on the communities that need general surgeons, and in doing so help us expand access to health care for Americans, no matter where they live.”
“As a practicing surgeon for nearly 15 years, I understand that access to general surgery services can significantly improve health outcomes and save lives,” Bucshon said. “Unfortunately, many of our rural communities in Indiana, and across the country, are facing a shortage of general surgeons, which can prevent many of our citizens in those areas from receiving the care they need. This legislation will provide important data and information on how we can best develop solutions to address this growing challenge.”