Montana Senator Jon Tester’s Bill Aims to Address Critical Doctor Shortage in Montana

8 June 2021


Tester’s Rural Physician Workforce Production Act strengthens partnerships between medical schools and rural hospitals, recruits new residents to frontier communities


(U.S. Senate) — As part of his efforts to address the shortage of medical professionals in Montana highlighted most recently by the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is introducing the bipartisan Rural Physician Workforce Production Act to bring more doctors to rural areas.


“The shortage of doctors in rural America threatens the future of our frontier communities,” Tester said. “Folks in every corner of our state deserve access to high-quality care, no matter where they live. This bill works to cut the burdensome red tape that prevents rural hospitals from bringing in more residents, and ensures those facilities have the resources they need to recruit and retain doctors for the long haul.”


One of the greatest indicators of where a doctor will practice is the location of their residency, but some rural hospitals can’t afford to take on new residents, despite need. The Rural Physician Workforce Production Act addresses the geographic misdistribution of physicians across the U.S. stemming from the current structure of the Medicare-funded graduate medical education (GME). Tester’s bill lifts the current caps on Medicare reimbursement payments to rural hospitals that cover the cost of taking on residents, eliminating the serious disadvantage that rural hospitals face when recruiting new medical professionals.


The bill also allows Medicare to reimburse urban hospitals that send residents to train at rural health care facilities during a resident rotation, and it establishes a per resident payment initiative to ensure rural hospitals have the resources to bring on additional residents.


Tester’s Rural Physician Workforce Production Act is supported by the Council of Academic Family Medicine, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Rural Health Association, and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.


Tester has fought relentlessly to improve access to health care in rural Montana by training more providers to work in frontier communities and making sure hospitals in those communities have the resources they need. He voted in support of the Fiscal Year 2021 omnibus that extended mandatory funding for the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program through FY2023, the longest reauthorization of funding for this program to train medical residents in community health centers since 2010.


Tester also authored the Restoring Rural Residencies Act in 2016 after hosting a Rural Health Summit that brought together more than 100 health care professionals and policy-makers to discuss challenges facing health care providers in Montana. This bill would allow rural hospitals to bill for time residents spend training at their sites. The previous Administration finalized a policy change to allow hospitals to receive reimbursement for residents’ training time based on Tester’s proposal.


Full text of the Rural Physician Workforce Production Act is available HERE.

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