Arkansas Senator Backing Bill To Address Doctor Shortage

Aug 13, 2019

File photo of Sen. John Boozman who is one of 13 cosponsors of a bill designed to address a shortage of doctors.
Credit George Jared / Talk Business & Politics

Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas is cosponsoring legislation that attempts to address a shortage of physicians. Medical school graduates are required to complete residency training to begin practicing, but Boozman says a 1997 cap on Medicare funding has led to a shortage of available residencies in the state.

"We have a situation where we have a lot of people graduating from medical school and then can’t find residencies in Arkansas. So as a result, probably 40 percent of them go out of state. Many of them never come back," Boozman said.

According to the Senator, that’s a key factor of why Arkansas now has among the lowest number of doctors per capita compared to other states. The availability of specialty doctors and physicians in rural areas is especially acute.

The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2019, which Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey introduced in February, would use Medicare funding to add 3,000 residency positions nationwide per year for five years.

"So what we’re trying to do is expand the residencies so we can keep those that we invested in medical school, keep them in the state so they can service our population in the future," Boozman said.

On Monday, Boozman discussed the bill at the Graduate Medical Education Summit held in Springdale. The event was organized by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Northwest Arkansas Council.

In a news release, UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson said the physician shortage is a significant problem that is getting worse.

"The latest data indicates a shortfall of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032, including significant shortages in both primary care and specialty categories. If action is not taken, Arkansas will soon have more medical school graduates than residency positions, forcing graduates to pursue residency training outside of the state," Patterson said.

When Congress returns from its August recess, Boozman says lawmakers will first determine the cost of the proposal. The bill will then go to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions with several hearings likely to be held. Boozman hopes it will then advance to the full Senate for debate.

He says both Democrats and Republicans support the bill. Boozman is one of 13 co-sponsors of the legislation.

"If you’re a patient and you need a neurologist and you can’t find one, that’s not a Democrat or Republican problem, that’s just a people problem. So the good news is this is a very bipartisan thing that we’re working on," Boozman said.