Congressman Jeff Denham has already introduced legislation to entice doctors to work in the Central Valley, and on Thursday he unveiled his newest bill aimed at expanding access to medical care within his 10th District by establishing more Teaching Health Center programs throughout the region.
Joined by Congressman David G. Valadao of the 21st District, Denham introduced H.R. 3451, the Creating Additional Residency Expansion Act to further expand the THC Graduate Medical Education program.
“The CARE Act will bring more primary and specialty care physicians to medically underserved areas like ours so that patients can see the doctor they need without having to drive long distances,” said Denham. “Increasing the number of Teaching Health Center programs like we have at the Valley Consortium for Medical Education in Modesto will help us train and retain doctors right here in our community.”
The Valley Consortium for Medical Education was founded in 2009 as a non-profit, community benefit organization to create and foster graduate and undergraduate medical education in the Central Valley. It currently has participation from major health care organizations throughout Stanislaus County, and has affiliations with several high caliber medical schools. VCME offers fourth-year Medical Student Elective rotations for active U.S. medical students, and helps graduates quickly assimilate into the diverse community settings throughout the Valley through community-based teaching.
The CARE Act will increase THCGME residencies in high-need areas, like the Valley, improving access to physicians.
“Not only does this bill create 240 new residency slots, it ensures centers will be created and expanded in areas that need them the most – like California’s Central Valley,” said Valadao.
The CARE Act builds upon legislation introduced earlier this week: HR. 3394, the Training the Next Generation of Primary Care Doctors Act. While H.R. 3394 reauthorizes the THCGME Program and funds 120 new resident slots, the CARE Act funds double that number – 240 new resident slots – and establishes a minimum of 10 (and up to 20) new residency centers. Furthermore, it directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to prioritize centers located in counties with higher than 35 percent of the population enrolled in Medicaid.
The THCGME program was originally created in 2010 to address the shortage of primary care physicians in rural and medically underserved communities, and currently supports 742 residents at 59 THCs throughout the nation, six of which are in California. Funding for the THCGME program was slated to run out September 2017, and the CARE Act will add more residency slots by providing $57 million over fiscal years 2019 ($19 million) and 2020 ($38 million).
The physician-to-population ratio in rural communities throughout the country is bleak, with only about 10 percent of physicians practicing in these areas. According to the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California, for every 100,000 residents in the Valley, there are 48 primary care physicians – 25 percent less than the state average of 64. There is an even lower share of specialists, and the area is also short on nurse practitioners and health professionals who accept Medi-Cal.
Compared to doctors who train in the traditional Medicare program, those trained at Teaching Health Centers are 82 percent more likely to practice primary care, 20 percent more likely to work in rural communities, and 55 percent more likely to work in underserved areas.
“Expanding this program is critical to addressing the shortage of primary and specialty care physicians in rural and medically underserved communities," said Denham. "This is one practical step toward ensuring we can both train and retain physicians in areas with the greatest need, such as California's Central Valley."