Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Address Physician Shortage in Rural and Underserved AreasPublished on Wednesday, June 23, 2021Congressman Brad Wenstrup, D.P.M. (R-Ohio) joined Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D., (D-Calif.), Congressman Larry Bucshon, M.D., (R-Ind.), and Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) in introducing the bipartisan Cap Flex Act. The bill would address our nation’s physician workforce shortage by giving hospitals in rural and underserved areas additional flexibility to build out the Graduate Medical Education (GME) slots available in their residency programs.“As a physician who has helped start a residency program, I understand the challenges associated with the process but also know the value in providing training opportunities for our nation’s future health care providers,” said Dr. Wenstrup. “That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan bill to help us address the growing physician shortage by giving hospitals in rural and other underserved areas the flexibility to build out their GME programs. I’m grateful to Representatives Ruiz, Bucshon, and Sewell for their leadership and cooperation on this critical effort.”“Now more than ever, we must work to address the physician shortage crisis that most severely impacts underserved and rural communities,” Dr. Ruiz said. “As an emergency physician, I have seen firsthand the pain and suffering of patients who lacked access to nearby physicians. That is why I am introducing the bipartisan, bicameral Physician Shortage GME Cap Flex Act to empower teaching hospitals in underserved communities to help meet the health care needs of people in my district and across the nation.” “Over the past year, our healthcare system has pushed many physicians to their limit with ever increasing demands that could result in a shortage of quality doctors and threaten the ability of Americans to access quality and affordable healthcare if we don’t act soon – especially in rural America,” said Dr. Bucshon. “This legislation is an important step forward towards addressing our demand for physicians by incentivizing teaching hospitals to stand up residency training programs in primary care or specialties facing shortages to train additional physicians in these areas of need.”"Our Nation's physician shortage poses a particular threat to our rural and underserved communities here in Alabama," said Rep. Sewell. "By giving rural hospitals the flexibility to build out their GME programs, this bill will help increase the physician workforce in our most vulnerable communities and ensure that my constituents are receiving the high-quality health care they deserve."Background:According to new data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States will see its current doctor shortage expand to nearly 139,000 physicians by 2033.Under current law, Medicare pays for most residency slots. However, the number of residency slots that Medicare will pay for was capped in 1997, allowing hospitals only five years to build out their new residency programs to qualify for GME funding before they are “capped”.The Cap Flex Act would allow hospitals in areas with a specialty shortage (as defined by the Health and Human Services Secretary) that have already established their GME cap an additional five years to further build out their residency program. In deciding which residency programs will qualify, the Secretary will consider various factors, including whether an area lacks adequate resources, is experiencing a primary or specialty physician shortage, or does not have enough approved residency training programs.The bill would also allow qualifying residency programs that are currently in their original five-year cap building window to have an additional five years to grow their programs before being capped.Congressman Wenstrup serves as co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus. He and Congresswoman Sewell serve as co-chairs on the Ways & Means Committee Rural and Underserved Communities Health Task Force. One of the task force’s top priorities is addressing the physician workforce shortage.Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.