Bipartisan legislation hoping to alleviate Iowa’s physician shortage brought Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer to Regional Medical Center to discuss challenges affecting rural hospitals May 24.
The Conrad State 30 & Physicians Access Act would expand and extend the Conrad 30 Waiver program that allows international doctors who have received their training in the United States to receive a visa to practice in a medically under-served area of the United States for at least three years.
Under current laws, those physicians are required to return to their home country and wait two years before they can apply for a new visa or green card.
The proposed legislation was introduced last week by Finkenauer, Nebraska Republican Don Bacon and Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider.
According to statistics provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges, there is a predicted nationwide shortage of 120,000 physicians. Iowa currently ranks 46th in the nation in the number of physicians per 100,000 patients.
“Visiting RMC, we really just wanted to get in and learn what are the different challenges in rural areas and for our health care professionals in rural areas. We also got to see the great work RMC is doing and the great staff that they have,” Finkenauer said.
The first district congresswoman said much of the conversations centered around rural healthcare.
“A lot of the discussion was about issues we see in healthcare in Iowa and very specifically about rural healthcare when it comes to providers and making sure we have access to care.”
Finkenauer explained the Conrad 30 bill could help hospitals attract physicians, especially in specialty areas that are often hard to fill, especially in rural settings.
“The Conrad 30 bill addresses the different allotment for different states to extend waivers and get physicians. Not every state uses all of their waivers. This would allow states like Iowa to be able to use some of those waivers that haven’t been used by other states.”
Finkenauer said it’s a way to keep Iowa-trained physicians in the state. “We struggle to get physicians and keep them here. Since many of these physicians are trained at Des Moines University or the University of Iowa, we would like to keep them in our communities.”
One of those specialty areas is OB-GYN physicians. “That very specifically hits Iowa,” Finkenauer explained. “We have one of the biggest shortages in the nation when it comes to OB-GYN.”
Finkenauer continued, “Luckily the folks at RMC are in good shape right now when it comes to being able to have providers, but they are aware it’s tough, whether it’s other critical access hospitals or hospitals in our cities as well when it comes to specialties.”
RMC CEO Charlie Button released a statement about the Conrad 30 bill. “We agree there is a shortage and this legislation may not help RMC directly, but increasing the number of physicians throughout the state can indirectly benefit all of us, so we wholeheartedly support this legislation.”
Finkenauer also weighed in on the Democratic presidential field. She said some candidates have asked her advice about campaigning in Iowa. “I tell them to acknowledge what a privilege it is that you are coming into my state and talking with my friends and neighbors and hearing what matters to them.”
She said candidates need to do more than hold rallies. “You just can’t come into Iowa and do big rallies. You have to have conversations with folks. You have to be able to hear what they are discussing around the kitchen table and what’s on their minds. That’s what really matters to folks here.”