More residency positions are needed to address doctor shortage
The Commonwealth Medical College in nearby Scranton is among the first wave of new medical schools created, in part, to help relieve a looming shortage of physicians.
The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of 62,900 doctors by 2015 and up to 140,000 a decade later. But larger classes at existing schools and the new schools can't truly relieve unless Congress reverses a terrible piece of special-interest public policy that it enacted in 1997 after vigorous lobbying by the same Association of American Medical Colleges that now projects the doctor shortage.
After graduating from medical school, doctors must complete their training in residencies of up to seven years, depending upon their specialties. Those residencies are federally funded and the available number was frozen at 94,000 under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
In lobbying for the freeze, the AMA and the medical school organization projected a physician surplus. Since then, the national population has grown by about 50 million, while the new Affordable Care Act will make health care available to millions more Americans. Yet the number of residencies remains at 94,000, at a cost of about $9.4 billion a year.
Without a residency, a medical school graduate can't become a practicing physician. And there is virtually no chance to get one in a subsequent year because there aren't enough slots for the next year's graduates.
Congress has failed to act on a bill introduced by Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Pennsylvania Democrat and gubernatorial candidate, and Republican Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois. It would create 15,000 residency positions over five years.
Congress should approve it and amend it to leave recommendations on the issue to an independent federal body within the Department of Health and Human Services, rather than relying on self-interested parties such as the AMA and the Association of Medical Colleges.