Washington, DC–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–September 28, 2006–As the U.S. population mushrooms by about 25 million a decade, a national Hispanic physicians group is sounding the alarm bell that unless the nation recruits and trains more medical students now, Americans will face a critical shortage of doctors in 2020 when aging baby boomers will most need medical care.
The crisis will be acutely painful for the nation’s growing Hispanic and minority groups, who tend to seek care from minority doctors. Those patients face a double-whammy: As their populations and needs rise, the number of physicians to serve them is shrinking and will drop precipitously if Congress moves ahead and cuts 2007 funding for federal programs to recruit and train medical students, said Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA).
That perilous problem will be among the topics congressional and health care leaders will discuss at NHMA’s fifth Hispanic Health Congressional Briefing Series, “A Solution to the U.S. Physician Shortage; Diversity in Medical Education.” The briefing will be noon-2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, at the Rayburn Office Building Room B-345 in Washington, DC.
There is little time left to change the tide and increase the number of doctors coming down the pipeline, according to health care professionals. “It takes 10 years to train to become a doctor, and we’re already in short supply – especially of physicians who can serve our rural communities,” said Rios, whose nonprofit group represents 35,000 Latino doctors in the U.S. One in five Americans lives in a rural or urban area that has so few physicians the federal government considers them medically underserved.
Richard Cooper, one of the world’s preeminent authorities on physician supply, predicts a shortage of up to 200,000 doctors in just 16 years for the simple fact that aging and wealthy countries demand more health care. “When 79 million baby boomers reach retirement age, everyone will have a difficult time finding a doctor,” Rios said.
“Hispanics will be especially hard hit,” Rios said. “There already are too few Hispanic doctors, and without federal action, we can’t recruit more Latino doctors to meet today’s demand – much less tomorrow’s.” The U.S. Hispanic population has nearly doubled since 1990 to about 43 million; it’s projected to reach 102.6 million by 2050.
Sponsored by The California Endowment, the congressional briefing will focus on how cuts in federal programs for minority medical students will adversely affect the nation and Americans’ health care. “We encourage Congress to acknowledge that physician shortages impact the health of all Americans and respond with appropriate policy solutions,” said Robert K. Ross, MD, president and CEO of The California Endowment. “By acting now, we can improve the health of millions of Americans and strengthen our future.”
Lawmakers invited to the briefing include: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN); Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Health Task Force; Rep. Donna Christensen (D-VI), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Brain Trust; Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), chairman of the Congressional Asian Caucus; and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), vice-chairman of the Congressional Native American Caucus.
Congress controls the supply of doctors by how much federal funding it provides for medical residencies, a graduate training program required of all doctors, and other programs. They include the Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) and the Hispanic Centers of Excellence (HCE), which are earmarked for severe cuts – about $65 million – in 2007, Rios said. The Health Resource and Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services runs the programs.
Sen. Frist, who is a doctor, plans to introduce a bill to save those programs. Rios said Frist’s bill seeks to amend the Public Health Service Act to improve the health and care of minorities and other health disparity populations. The bill will include efforts to improve schools’ abilities to recruit, train and retain underrepresented minority student and faculty members in providing care to minorities and health disparity populations. “We think it’s the minority bill of the century,” Rios said.
“As our nation grows increasingly diverse, so should our health care providers. But the reality is that millions of Latinos and other communities of color face cultural and linguistic barriers to health care,” Rep. Solis said.
A Q&A with medical leaders will follow the briefing. Invited guests include: Maria Soto-Greene, MD, president, Hispanic-Serving Health Professions Schools; Susan Sloan, MD, president, Association of American Indian Physicians; Albert Morris, MD, National Medical Association; Gem Daus, Asian & Pacific Islander Forum; Olveen Carasquillo, MD, M.P.H., Society of General Internal Medicine; Gloria Boone, M.P.H., American Medical Association; David Brunson, MD, American Dental Education Association; Renee Jenkins, MD, FAAP, president, American Academy of Pediatrics; Larry S. Fields, MD, president, American Academy of Family Physicians; and a representative of the American College of Physicians.
Established in 1994 in Washington, DC, NHMA is a nonprofit association that represents licensed Hispanic physicians in the U.S. in its mission to improve health care for Hispanics and the underserved. For more information, visit http://www.nhmamd.org.