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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolution

Floor Speech

Date: Feb. 12, 2021
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about an issue of critical importance to California: doctor shortages.

First, I want to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude to the entire medical community, particularly the doctors, nurses, and support staff who have been on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. Amidst a severe shortage of protective equipment, they nevertheless continue to work around the clock to save countless lives. I--and my colleagues--are eternally grateful.

I have heard from countless Californians who have said the same thing: we need more doctors.

That is why Congress established the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program in 2007 to encourage doctors to pursue careers at public and nonprofit facilities, especially in areas experiencing physician shortages. As a result, physicians who provide care in a nonprofit or public hospital can have their student debt forgiven by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program after making 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan.

However, when the Department of Education issued implementing guidance for the program, it unintentionally excluded California and Texas physicians from being eligible to receive loan forgiveness by requiring that borrowers be classified as employees in order to be eligible for loan forgiveness.

The problem is that under state law in California and Texas, doctors are prevented from being directly employed by corporations, including nonprofit organizations. As a result, physicians in California and Texas who provide medical services at nonprofit hospitals do not currently qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

To make matters worse, the United States is facing a shortage of physicians, especially in California.

The Council on Graduate Medical Education recommends 60 to 80 primary care physicians per 100,000 people. However, statewide in California, the number is already down to just 50 per 100,000 people. And in some places, it is even lower: down to 35 primary care physicians per 100,000 people and 39 per 100,000 people in the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley, respectively.

During this difficult and challenging time, it is clear that more medical professionals are needed. And long after this pandemic ends, we will still need more doctors to provide high-quality care, in both rural and urban areas.

That is why I am pleased to introduce the bipartisan ``Stopping Doctor Shortages Act.'' This legislation would help attract more doctors to public service and address the looming physician shortage by fixing a loophole that prevents thousands of doctors from participating in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

According to the California Medical Association, this bill alone could bring as many as 10,000 physicians to California over the next ten years.

Similar legislation, soon to be introduced in the House by Representatives Josh Harder, Jay Obernolte, Joaquin Castro, and Van Taylor, also enjoys bipartisan support.

I would like to thank Senator John Cornyn for his support on this critical issue and for cosponsoring the bill.

I ask my colleagues to join us to pass the ``Stopping Doctor Shortages Act'' in a timely manner as we continue to find ways to combat the coronavirus pandemic and save lives.

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By Mr. DURBIN (for himself, Mr. Grassley, Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. Tillis, Mr. Coons, Mr. Cramer, Mr. Booker, and Mr. Wicker):

S. 312. A bill to expand eligibility for and provide judicial review for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program, provide for compassionate release based on COVID-19 vulnerability, shorten the waiting period for judicial review during the COVID-19 pandemic, and make other technical corrections; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

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