NJ Lawmakers Seek to Lift Federal Limits on Homegrown Doctors

Caps restrict the number of medical residencies that hospitals can offer; Menendez, Pascrell and Gottheimer would change that

New Jersey lawmakers sounded the alarm: The state will need an estimated 2,800 more doctors by next year just to meet demand. But they probably won’t come from Jersey, and for one reason — hospitals like Holy Name in Teaneck can’t offer enough openings for residents to complete their training in the state. A 22-year-old federal law caps the hospital’s graduate medical education program at just six doctors, the same number Holy Name had when the law was passed.

“It makes no sense — 1996 is not 2019. These caps have failed to keep pace with the growing demand for a larger physician workforce,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

“If we want to keep growing as a state and as a nation, we need to bolster our medical pipeline by expanding physician training programs,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9th).

Worse, New Jersey’s doctors are aging out. Thirty-five percent of them are at least 60 years old and headed for retirement — that’s the nation’s third-highest percentage. That, as the healthcare system faces an impending spike in baby boomers who will need more doctors. Companion bills sponsored by Menendez, Pascrell and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th) would update those caps for all hospitals nationwide and encourage residency programs.

“Statistics show that if someone does their residency at a particular hospital, they are more likely to stay in that community — so they go to medical school, they graduate out, they have to go to residency. And they often stay in the community and are able to treat our families and of course help our economy,” said Gottheimer.

No shortage of graduates, but not enough residencies

New Jersey has five medical schools so there’s no shortage of medical graduates, but without more local residency openings they leave. Holy Name wants to restart its residency program with a focus on primary and palliative care. The hospital would open 100 positions for new medical residents but can’t while it’s frozen at the original six slots.

“And part of the inequity in this system is, if we didn’t have any, if we had zero in 1996, we wouldn’t be having this discussion because the rules say then I am unencumbered. I could start and have 100 residents tomorrow,” said Holy Name president and CEO Michael Maron.

Similar legislation stalled last year, but with a new Democratic House majority and Medicare reform looming, lawmakers see an opening. Both bills will be introduced Monday. They would probably have little chance of success on their own, so the plan is to attach them to an omnibus or Medicare reform measure in the next few months.