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Support Builds for Strengthening Health Care Workforce to Respond to Opioid Epidemic

June 27, 2019

Federal legislation to strengthen the health care workforce serving on the front lines of the nation’s opioid epidemic earned the approval of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee in a legislative mark-up on Wednesday, and will now await consideration before the full House.

The bill—the Opioid Workforce Act of 2019—would support training more doctors equipped to combat the opioid epidemic and, importantly, help mitigate the effects of the overall physician shortage that is facing our nation.

Specifically, H.R. 3414, the Opioid Workforce Act of 2019, would provide Medicare support for an additional 1,000 graduate medical education positions during the next five years in hospitals that have, or are in the process of establishing, accredited residency programs in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, or pain management.

Additional support for residency slots would fortify the ability of hospitals to train more physicians who are specialized to treat patients with substance use disorders and chronic pain.

HAP joined more than 50 health care stakeholder organizations in signing a letter of support for the legislation stating: “The Opioid Workforce Act of 2019 is a targeted and important step that Congress must take to help ensure a robust physician workforce that can deliver high-quality care to those suffering from substance abuse disorders.”

Stakeholders cautioned that data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicates that, during 2016, only 11 percent of the 21 million individuals needing treatment for a substance abuse disorder received treatment. The shortage of physicians trained in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, or pain management contributes to that disparity.

The latest data outlining physician supply and demand projections warns of a shortfall of between 46,900 and 121,900 physicians by 2032, including significant shortages in both primary care and specialty categories. This shortage is particularly acute in the field of addiction medicine and substance use disorder treatment.

HAP applauds the action by the Ways & Means Committee to advance the Opioid Workforce Act and will continue to advocate for the crucial legislation to advance through the legislation process and be enacted into law.

Please contact Laura Stevens Kent, HAP’s vice president, federal advocacy, with questions pertaining to federal policy addressing the opioid epidemic and in support of the health care workforce.

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