AMA Wire

Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013

Special Feature

As physician shortage approaches, GME funding sent to chopping block

Medical residency funding—already inadequate for the health care needs of the nation—is about to be cut under the federal budget sequester. You can urge your members of Congress to intervene before it's too late by visiting the AMA's Save GME campaign website today.

Unless lawmakers act by March 1, Medicare financing for graduate medical education (GME) will be cut by 2 percent on April 1. The funding reduction will last nearly a decade. For a country expected to see a shortage of 62,900 physicians in just two years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, a cut of this nature couldn't come at a worse time.

The reasons for the shortage are manifold, Atul Grover, MD, chief public policy officer for the American Academy of Medical Colleges, explained during a panel presentation at the AMA's National Advocacy Conference last week.

Changes to the U.S. patient population will put many pressures on the health care system as about 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day for the next 10 years, 30 million more people gain access to health insurance coverage in 2014, more people develop chronic diseases and the U.S. population continues to grow. But not least among the factors contributing to the impending physician shortage is the cap on medical residency slots that Congress has not lifted since 1997.

In the meantime, U.S. medical schools have been preparing for the shortage by increasing the number of medical students they train each year.

Allopathic medical schools have increased their annual number of graduates by about 30 percent, and the number of students graduating from osteopathic schools has nearly doubled, Dr. Grover said.

But with the cap in place and threats of funding reductions, the number of U.S. medical school graduates will soon exceed the number of available residency slots.

"GME funding is extremely important to the future of medicine," Jade Anderson, a second-year medical student at Boston University School of Medicine, said. "It doesn't make sense to expand medical school sizes and not expand the second half of our education."

Anderson pointed to the effects of a physician shortage. "Patients would have to wait months to see a physician, which would lead to worse health and … a huge amount of health care spending that could have been avoided," she said.

Anderson was one of more than 300 medical students who met with their members of Congress and staffers last week during AMA Medical Student Advocacy Day to explain what's at stake if Congress fails to prevent funding cuts or lift the residency cap.

Across the nation, thousands of physicians, medical students and others are taking part in the AMA's Save GME campaign, calling on Congress to act on this important issue.

Contact your members of Congress today to urge them to support GME funding. Let them know a strong GME program is essential for America to have a healthy future.