RDOCS Act Would Address Primary Care Physician Shortages in Underserved Areas

October 11, 2012 05:35 pm James Arvantes

A bill recently introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., would establish a state-based scholarship program for primary care medical students who would agree to practice in medically underserved areas for five years after residency.

The legislation, known as the Restoring the Doctors of Our Country Through Scholarships or RDOCS Act, H.R. 6400(www.opencongress.org), also would prioritize scholarships for students enrolled in six-year accelerated family medicine programs, as well as programs that include clinical training in underserved communities.

"Of all of the challenges facing the nation's health-care system, perhaps the most neglected is the gaping hole in our workforce of primary care physicians," said McDermott in a statement(mcdermott.house.gov) introducing the bill. "One estimate projects a shortage of 45,000 primary care doctors by 2020. This bill will go a long way toward addressing that shortage, improving health outcomes and reducing the nation's health care costs."

The federal government would provide most of the funding for the RDOCS Act, which is modeled after the National Health Service Corps scholarship program. States would administer the scholarship program, awarding grants to primary care medical students attending either state-run medical schools within their state of residence or in neighboring states if their home states do not have a medical school. In exchange, the scholarship recipients, known as RDOCS officers, would be required to practice in a medically underserved area in their state of residence for five years after residency. The RDOCS Act would pay all medical school tuition and costs for RDOCS officers, according to the bill.

If enacted, the program would be subject to the annual appropriations process and, if it was fully funded immediately, it would graduate its first 4,000 new primary care physicians in 2020. The program seeks to graduate 20,000 new primary care physicians by 2024, according to the bill summary.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the AAFP's Commission on Governmental Advocacy is scheduled to review it early next year before making a recommendation to the AAFP Board on support for the legislation.

"Although the AAFP has not yet taken a formal position, there is much to like about Rep. McDermott's bill," said AAFP President Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I., of Spokane, Wash. "It recognizes the critical importance of primary care, addresses the worsening shortage of primary care physicians, and provides a means for those interested in a primary care career to overcome the medical education debt barrier that all too often stands in their way."

Stream also praised the bill's focus on rural and underserved areas and its flexibility in allowing states to address their "unique primary care physician workforce issues."