Hirono Cosponsors Bill to Address Physician Shortage

January 25, 2020, 4:05 PM HST · Updated January 25, 4:05 PM
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US Sen. Mazie Hirono.

US Senator Mazie Hirono announced on Friday that she will support bipartisan, bicameral legislation to increase the number of residency slots available through Medicare to help address the growing physician shortage in Hawaiʻi and across the country.

The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2019 would gradually lift the outdated cap on Medicare-funded graduate medical education positions nationally by creating 15,000 new residency training slots across the country over five years.

According to a press release from Hironoʻs office, the bill would prioritize increasing positions in states with new medical schools, hospitals already training resident physicians over their cap, hospitals who partner with VA medical centers, hospitals who focus on community-based training, as well as hospital training programs in rural areas or with an integrated rural track.

Lawmakers hope the bill will help address Hawaii’s physician shortage by expanding residency opportunities to retain local talent in the medical field and expand access to care, particularly in rural and high need areas across the state.

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“With more and more Hawaii physicians either retiring or leaving the state, we must do more to improve physician recruitment and retention in the islands. This legislation is one important way we can ease pressures on the current health care system, expand access to care, and support training for new physicians in Hawaii,” Hirono said in the press release.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States is expected to face a shortage of about 120,000 primary care and specialty physicians by 2030.

In Hawaiʻi, the physician workforce experienced an 8 percent drop in 2019, with the highest shortages in primary care. According to the latest Hawaiʻi physician workforce data, there are currently 3,484 practicing physicians serving in civilian settings statewide.

At the end of last year, Hawaiʻi had 245 physician vacancies as doctors retired, left the islands, or cut their hours.

It is estimated that upwards of 820 primary care doctors, specialists, and other physicians are needed to ensure people across all islands receive quality health care.

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