Durbin Urges Senate To Expand Health Care Workforce To Meet Nationwide Challenges Highlighted By COVID-19 In Next Relief Bill

Strengthening America's Health Care Readiness Legislation Will Expand Scholarship & Loan Repayment Programs To Address Health Care Shortages And Bolster Emergency Surge Capacity

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) urged the Senate to include in the next COVID-19 relief package a bipartisan bill he introduced with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) that would provide a historic investment in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), Nurse Corps, and National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) programs to bolster health emergency surge capacity and restore the pipeline of physicians, nurses, and other health professionals to address existing health workforce shortages throughout our country. 

In his speech on the Senate floor, Durbin described how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed existing health workforce shortages, while simultaneously imposing unprecedented strains on America’s heroic frontline health professionals.  A substantial barrier in meeting our nation’s health workforce needs is the student debt associated with graduate health education—which can average more than $200,000.  COVID-19 has also magnified alarming racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes, which can be partially addressed by expanding the representation of minority populations working in health careers.

“The simple economics of American medical education pose a barrier to our health workforce needs. We take our most promising students, put them through years of rigorous education and training, license them after a backbreaking residency on one condition -- they have to be prepared to assume a student debt, on average, of more than $200,000 to be a doctor in America. The burden of paying off these loans steers some of our best and brightest minds into higher-paying specialties and communities, leaving many areas with gaps and vulnerable to the challenges we're facing today,” Durbin said. “To address these health workforce challenges and medical disparities and to bolster surge capacity for future emergencies, I have partnered with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Together we've introduced the Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act [to] immediately restore our pipeline of doctors, nurses, and other providers.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.

Durbin and Rubio’s legislation, Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act, would address these challenges and entice promising students from diverse backgrounds—physicians, dentists, mental health professionals, nurses, and physician assistants—into primary health careers in underserved communities by providing scholarship and loan repayment funding for tens of thousands of clinicians in exchange for a service commitment in an urban or rural area with a shortage of providers.  The legislation would also create a new Emergency Service partnership between the NHSC and NDMS to boost our health care surge capacity in response to public health emergencies. 

The United States is projected to face a shortage of up to 120,000 doctors over the next decade, and the need for an estimated 200,000 new nurses for each of the next several years.  COVID-19 has upended this equation, with providers being called back into service from retirement, fourth-year medical students being graduated early, and health professionals traveling across state lines to deliver care. 

Specifically, the Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act would expand the NHSC, NDMS, and Nurse Corps programs by:

Emergency Surge Funding to Restore Workforce Pipeline: 

  • Providing a one-time, supplemental appropriation of $5 billion for scholarship and loan forgiveness awards through the NHSC, and $1 billion through the Nurse Corps program;
    • Includes a 40 percent set-aside for racial/ethnic minorities and students from low-income urban/rural areas;

Creation of Emergency Service Corps for Surge Capacity

  • Establishing a demonstration pilot to harness members of the NHSC workforce to serve in emergency capacities through the NDMS.  This option would bolster loan repayment for health professionals while expanding our preparedness and surge capacity.
  • Individuals serving in the NHSC or alumni who continue to practice in a health shortage area could concurrently serve in the NDMS and be available for rapid deployment for health emergencies, while receiving supplemental loan repayment awards to address their student debt. 

The Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act is supported by the following organizations: American Medical Association, Association of Clinicians for the Underserved, Association of American Medical Colleges, National Association of Community Health Centers, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Physician Assistant Education Association, Council on Social Work Education, and National Hispanic Medical Association.