Plan to dramatically increase medical school slots in N.J. included in stimulus bill

GME Act, effort to confront growing doctor shortage, would increase cap (currently at 3,100) by 1,000

For Mike Maron, the CEO of Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, the premise is simple: The more doctors that train here, the more will stay here.

“Holy Name has said from the beginning, if we train our future physicians, we are confident we will make New Jersey their professional home,” he said. “That’s good for every resident of our state.”

Mike Maron. (Holy Name)

For years, however, there’s been one big problem: An out-of-date cap on graduate medical education slots has limited the abilities of New Jersey hospitals to increase the number of residency slots in the state.

How bad is it? Consider this: New Jersey has approximately 3,100 physicians in resident training every year — which is good for approximately 36 for every 100,000 residents of the state, according to the New Jersey Hospital Association.

The figure pales in comparison to New York (81 per 100,000) and Pennsylvania (62 per 100,000).

That may soon change.

Tucked into the $900 billon stimulus bill passed by Congress this week was the Supporting Graduate Medical Education at Community Hospitals Act.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer. (File photo)

The GME Act, which is sponsored by New Jersey’s U.S. Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.) and Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.), along with U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), will increase the number of GME slots nationwide by 3,000 a year for five years.

This will help address New Jersey’s physician shortage by modifying the cap on GME slots that was set in in 1997, when the Balanced Budget Act created an arbitrary cap on the number of Medicare-funded GME positions. The state is expected to get 1,000 new slots from the bill.

New Jersey currently suffers from a shortage of physicians. A New Jersey Physician Workforce Task Force reports estimates that an additional 2,500 to 2,800 physicians by 2020 are necessary to meet New Jersey’s health care needs.

The stimulus bill has not yet been signed into law. And late Tuesday, there were reports coming out of the White House that President Donald Trump was looking to make revisions.

A bill of some sort still is expected to be signed.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell. (Courtesy photo)

If this act remains, Maron and others said it will be a game-changer for community hospitals such as Holy Name, as it will allow them to invest in teaching programs that will keep New Jersey’s health workforce competitive.

Maron said there’s no time like the present.

“Training more medical students is vital for New Jersey, especially as we come through the pandemic,” he said.

Gottheimer and Pascrell, both of whom represent parts of Teaneck, obviously agree.

“New Jersey has been facing a massive and dangerous doctor shortage, all from an outdated federal rule, which has only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gottheimer said. “Now, through my work with Sen. Menendez, Sen. Booker and Congressman Pascrell, we’re correcting the arbitrary cap on the number of graduate medical students who can train in Jersey’s hospitals.

“By passing this legislation, we’ll finally be able to recruit and retain more talented physicians to help our medical community grow and help us fight this pandemic and recover.”

Pascrell said the plan directly combats the “worsening physician shortage” in New Jersey.

U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez, left, and Cory Booker. (File photos)

“Our fix will help community hospitals on the frontlines of the pandemic, like Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, bolster their already-impressive fleet of physicians by allowing them to train and equip aspiring doctors,” he said. “America’s medical professionals need our support now more than ever. With today’s news, I am pleased to tell them that more help is on the way.”

According to data from the New Jersey Hospital Association, a third of New Jersey’s practicing physicians are over 60 years old, the third-highest rate in the nation, and the state ranks 46th in the nation in the percentage of doctors under 40, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Menendez said all of these numbers add to the importance of the GME Act.

“With a raging pandemic, an older physician workforce and an aging population overall, the demand for qualified doctors in New Jersey is quickly outpacing supply,” he said. “If we’re going to meet the future needs of our residents and ensure access to quality health care, we must close the gap by lifting the arbitrary cap — quickly.”

Booker agreed.

“As we work to confront and recover from this pandemic and increase preparedness for future public health crises, it’s more important than ever that we are empowering a pipeline of qualified doctors who can meet the demand for high quality care for all New Jerseyans,” he said.