• In The Trenches

    Congress Is Listening to Us About Rural Health Care

    The Academy’s advocacy is on bright display in a pair of bills introduced last week that address the primary care workforce shortage.

    Rural field under wispy clouds

    The landmark Doctors of Community Act (H.R. 3671) would permanently authorize and increase funding for the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program, fulfilling another of the AAFP’s longstanding goals. Such funding would increase access for medically underserved Americans for generations to come by training and producing primary care physicians where they are most needed.

    The DOC Act would “significantly improve health care access for millions of Americans … and allow teaching health centers to manage their residency programs more efficiently and grow the number of residents in training from the current 769 to more than 3,000 by the time it is fully implemented,” we said in a June 2 letter to the legislation’s co-sponsors, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. Its passage would also ensure that each state has at least one THC; today, there are THCs in just half the country.

    The Academy last week also expressed strong support for the Rural Physician Workforce Production Act of 2021 (S. 1893), which would direct new federal support to rural residency training, alleviating physician shortages in rural communities.

    The bill removes caps for rural training and provides robust financial incentives for rural hospitals, including critical access and sole community hospitals, to provide training opportunities ultimately benefitting family medicine patients. Urban hospitals wouldn’t be left out: Incentives for “rural training tracks” would apply there as well.

    The AAFP is committed to improving rural health nationwide and recently established the rural health initiative to advance that goal. There’s a lot at stake: As we said in a June 2 letter to that legislation’s co-sponsors, Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont.; and John Barrasso, M.D., R-Pa., rural Americans face greater socioeconomic barriers than their average urban counterparts and suffer from higher rates of all five leading causes of death.

    Twenty percent of the U.S. population are rural residents, but only 12% of primary care physicians practice in these areas. These bills offer real hope that lawmakers recognize the need to empower family medicine against daunting statistical imbalances and health inequities. We’re seeing them now because of the Academy’s sustained advocacy.

    The next step — for the AAFP and, I hope, for members reading this — is to further press the case for a robust primary care workforce.

    Stephanie Quinn is senior vice president of advocacy, practice advancement and policy.


    The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.