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New Federal Proposal for Strengthening the Health Care Workforce to Respond to the Opioid Epidemic

May 16, 2018

Newly introduced legislation, the Opioid Workforce Act of 2018, would strengthen the health care workforce’s ability to respond to the opioid crisis. The act incentivizes the training of physicians specialized in the treatment of substance use disorders and pain management. 

Specifically, the legislation would provide Medicare support for an additional 1,000 graduate medical education positions during the next five years in hospitals that have, or are in the process of establishing, accredited residency programs in substance use disorder medicine or psychiatry, or pain management. This additional support for residency slots would strengthen the ability of hospitals to train more of these kinds of physician specialists.

The legislation—H.R. 5818/S. 2843—was introduced in bipartisan and bicameral partnership by U.S. Representatives Ryan Costello (R, PA-06) and Joseph Crowley (D, NY-14) and U.S. Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Dean Heller (R-NV). 

Projections outlined in a recent report, The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2016–2030, indicate a national shortage of up to:

  • 20,000 physicians by 2030
  • Between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians by the end of the next decade

In the face of the opioid epidemic and behavioral health challenges confronting our nation—and particularly impacting Pennsylvania—the dedication to strengthening our health care workforce is more important than ever. This targeted legislation is an important step. 

To stem the looming physician shortages across a wide variety of disciplines and specialties, Pennsylvania hospitals have also advocated for legislation that would provide Medicare support for an additional 3,000 residency positions each year for five years. H.R. 2267/S. 1301, the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2017, would increase the number of Medicare direct graduate medical education (DGME) and indirect medical education (IME) slots by a total of 15,000 nationwide from 2019 to 2023. 

As legislation aimed at addressing the opioid crisis continues to advance in both the U.S. House and Senate, HAP urges Congress to include H.R. 5818/S. 2843, the Opioid Workforce Act of 2018, in the final policy package. HAP also urges Congress to continue to work to increase federal support for residency training that will help alleviate the doctor shortage.

Please contact Laura Stevens Kent, HAPs vice president, federal advocacy, with questions pertaining to federal policy addressing the opioid epidemic and in support of the health care workforce.

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