WASHINGTON: The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) has endorsed the move by U.S. Senators to support an amendment introduced to add 15,000 more residency slots to the health care reform bill.

“On behalf of AAPI, we applaud the US Senators for supporting this vital amendment, which will add 15,000 residency slots over the next 10 years producing 40,000 new physicians,” said AAPI President Dr. Vinod K. Shah.

“This important amendment will enable Indian American physicians and qualified physicians of Indian origin the opportunity to receive world-class medical training and provide quality health care to millions of patients in the years ahead. We urge AAPI members and the Indian American community to support this important endeavor,” Dr. Shah said.

Due to provisions passed in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, no additional residency slots have been created in more than 12 years, resulting in a physician shortage, which is being exacerbated by the retirement of “baby boomers” and an unchanging physician population. As Medicare funds Graduate Medical Education (GME) positions, only Congress can change the total amount of residency slots, which currently stands at approximately 25,000.

Senate Amendment 2909 was filed on Dec 4, 2009 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL); Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY); Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA); Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI); and Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT). The following U.S. Senators are cosponsors of Senate Amendment 2909: Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY); Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA); Herb Kohl (D-WI) ; Paul G. Kirk, Jr. (D-MA); Richard Durbin (D-IL); Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Jack Reed (D-RI).

Besides AAPI, Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and American Osteopathic Association (AOA) have signed the coalition letter in support of the amendment. The coalition letter states that as a result of provisions included in the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 1997, nation’s physician training capacity has been static since 1997. The BBA established limitations on the number of residency training positions, with little opportunity for increasing capacity. There is now mounting evidence that the U.S. faces a significant shortage of physicians in primary care, general surgery, and many specialties.

“Our population is both increasing and aging. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the population will exceed 350 million people by 2025 and the number of Medicare beneficiaries will almost double during this same time period. Additionally, the nation’s physician workforce resembles the broader society. Presently, more than one-third of all practicing physicians are over the age of 55 meaning that they are likely to retire in the next two decades. These events will exacerbate the acknowledge physician shortage we have today, it said.

The Senate is striving to approve legislation that would expand health care coverage to millions of individuals presently uninsured and improve the quality of coverage for millions more. Unfortunately, coverage does not equal access. We must educate and train a cadre of physicians, in all specialties and subspecialties, capable of meeting the health care needs of our growing and aging population, the letter said.