Bernie Sanders chairs Senate committee looking to fix the health worker shortage : Shots


Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is chairing the Senate’s high well being committee which is concentrated on fixing the U.S. well being care employee scarcity.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is chairing the Senate’s high well being committee which is concentrated on fixing the U.S. well being care employee scarcity.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senators are eying the rising scarcity of well being care employees in the USA as one of many few issues the place there may be room for bipartisan options, even in a deeply divided Congress gearing up for a presidential election cycle.

The scarcity that is solely worsened for the reason that pandemic is a prescription for skyrocketing prices, struggling, and pointless demise, warned Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who’s the brand new chairman of the Senate’s high well being committee. He spoke in his committee’s first listening to final week.

“We’re going to produce laws, and I believe folks might be shocked concerning the stage of bipartisan supporters,” Sanders stated in a quick interview throughout a break from the listening to. He referred to as for the committee to “produce one thing significant.”

The scarcity of well being care employees of all types is a widespread drawback, however is particularly acute in rural areas and minority communities. Sanders pointed to the startling numbers of People residing in medical care deserts as an example the purpose. There are practically 100 million individuals who do not have quick access to a main care doctor, nearly 70 million with no dentist at hand, and a few 158 million individuals who have few native psychological well being suppliers, Sanders stated.

The COVID pandemic contributed to the nation’s present employee scarcity as many left the workforce because the disaster worsened. Some contracted the virus themselves, and huge numbers of well being care suppliers died. An investigation by KHN and The Guardian revealed greater than 3,600 well being employees in the USA died through the pandemic’s first 12 months alone. Many others received burnt out or sought higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

“Regardless of all of our well being care spending, we do not have sufficient docs, nurses, nurse practitioners, dentists, dental hygienists, pharmacists, psychological well being suppliers, and different medical professionals,” Sanders stated, pointing to information that recommend the nation faces a shortfall of about 450,000 nurses and 120,000 docs within the coming years, and 100,000 dentists now.

Whereas Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledged the shortages hobbling look after tons of of thousands and thousands of People, any legislative answer should go not solely the Senate Well being, Schooling, Labor and Pensions Committee, but additionally the complete Senate and Home of Representatives.

Far-right Home Republicans have threatened to go as far as forcing the federal authorities to default on its money owed as they demand spending cuts, and excessive authorities spending on well being care may make new laws a ripe goal.

Sen. Invoice Cassidy of Louisiana, the committee’s high Republican who can also be a physician, cited a couple of packages the committee is liable for updating this 12 months, equivalent to an expiring program that trains lots of the nation’s pediatricians. He stated funding ought to replicate what works within the well being care system and are available “with the suitable spending offsets.”

“Now we have to ensure that we’re not losing the cash we’re making an attempt to productively spend,” he stated.

Not one of the senators within the listening to disagreed with the elemental drawback that too many medical professionals are leaving their fields and that academic establishments usually are not graduating sufficient new ones to switch them and meet the rising wants of an growing old inhabitants.

Members on either side of the aisle acknowledged rising ranges of burnout within the medical professions; elevated threats confronted by well being care employees; the prices and challenges of working underserved areas; and monetary incentives that steer youthful professionals towards extra profitable specialties and higher-income areas.

Senators agreed on some methods to spice up numbers of well being employees, equivalent to encouraging extra lower-cost academic choices like neighborhood faculty and making certain that present packages are prolonged this 12 months, such because the Nationwide Well being Service Corps that trains docs for underserved areas and graduate teaching programs.

A whiff of partisan considering drifted into the dialog, with some Republicans centered extra on decrying authorities interference in well being care. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, advised the State Division ought to do a greater job clearing international college students and practitioners to immigrate right here. Cassidy raised digital well being information necessities as a contributor to doctor burnout, saying they devour an excessive amount of time.

Even in these areas, there have been indicators lawmakers may agree. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., additionally raised the thought of unjamming the immigrant backlog.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., stated vaccine necessities have been an obstacle. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., raised rules barring some shock medical payments as dangerous to docs.

“I believe the truth that the committee has made this the primary listening to means various us have payments. We might attempt to take a bunch of them up collectively and see if we will mix them into one thing,” stated Kaine, pointing specifically to the thought of increasing mortgage forgiveness for folks prepared to enter areas with shortages. “I believe there’s nice prospects for bipartisan progress on this.”

Among the senators credited Sanders with the preliminary progress towards a compromise. He spent his first weeks in his publish assembly with committee members from each events to establish areas of bipartisan settlement.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, stated Sanders reached out to satisfy along with her and talk about her priorities. They each named workforce shortages as a high difficulty, she stated, including, “We have good things to work on.”

“In my dialog with him simply on the ground this week, about what we would have the ability to do with the workforce difficulty, I believe he was form of probing to see if we may put collectively some efforts to only deal with these workforce shortages,” Murkowski advised KHN. “There may be a substantial amount of curiosity in legislating on this area.”

“What it will appear like, I am unable to let you know but,” she added.

“We’re going to produce laws,” Sanders stated because the listening to ended. “I do not do hearings for the sake of hearings.”

KHN (Kaiser Well being Information) is a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is among the three main working packages at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering info on well being points to the nation.