With media attention focused, and rightfully so, on the migrant crisis at our southern border, it is also important to pay attention to a more slowly-brewing crisis in our immigration policies and laws that directly affect health care and our physician shortage in this country. In the first round of Democratic debates, it seemed that virtually 100 percent of the time was spent on either health care reform or immigration reform; and we are living with a crisis that exists within both of those arenas.

We have a well-documented physician shortage that is about to reach crisis levels in this country. The Association of American Colleges (AAMC) reports that physician demand is set to exceed supply by between 46,900 and 121,900 by 2032. That this shortage has not escalated to a crisis is largely due to the physicians from other countries who complete medical school in their home country and come to the U.S. to finish a residency and provide important medical services in rural and underserved communities.

According to a report from the American Medical Association: “many communities, including rural and low-income urban districts have problems meeting their patient care needs and depend on the physicians in the Conrad 30 Waiver program to provide health care services, but legislation is needed to reauthorize and improve the Conrad 30 Waiver program to protect patient access to care in medically underserved areas.”

However, as many international medical graduates, or IMGS, try to fill those gaps in our health care provider shortages, the immigration laws have not kept pace to allow enough of these physicians to practice or to stay in the U.S. Two new bills introduced in House and Senate aim to alleviate some of the barriers for physicians who wish to stay, and often work, in rural and medically underserved areas:

S.898 – Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act introduced in Senate by Sen. Klobuchar

H.R.2141 – Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act introduced by Rep. Schneider

These proposed bills would increase the number of available slots per state and streamline the green card process for physicians.

Bipartisan bills that extend and strengthen a program to let states recruit foreign doctors to fill existing health care shortages would mitigate the brewing crisis caused by the physician shortage. For more background on the Conrad State 30 and the link between health care and immigration, read this post from April: “The Doctor Is Out. Are Immigration Laws to Blame?”