Durbin: We Need To Address The Health Care Workforce Shortage

Durbin’s bipartisan bill with Senator Rubio will increase funding for the NHSC scholarship & loan repayment program

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) urged his colleagues to work together and pass legislation to address the health care workforce shortage, which affects about 100 million Americans in urban and rural communities.  It is estimated that the United States will need 450,000 nurses over the next two years, and will face a shortage of 120,000 physicians over the next decade.  

“In the wealthiest nation in the world, nearly one in every three people live in an area with too few doctors.  I know it in Illinois, I’ve seen it.  Whenever I visit a clinic or hospital outside of Chicago, I hear the same thing:  Our health care system is under-staffed, under-funded, and under-equipped to address the needs of American families… The pandemic brought it to light.  It may not have broken us but it showed us where our health system is broken.  Over the past three years, our doctors, nurses, and other health care providers have been pushed to the brink.  And, as a result, nearly one out of every five health care workers has quit their jobs,” Durbin said.

Earlier this month, Durbin and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the bipartisan Restoring America’s Health Care Workforce and Readiness Act to provide historic investments to the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) scholarship and loan repayment program to address health workforce shortages throughout our country.  The bill includes a three-year reauthorization that would double the mandatory funding, which will expire on September 30th, from $310 million up to $625 million in Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24), and increasing up to $825 million in FY26.  

Durbin continued, “Now why is this program, in particular, so important?  Well, let me tell you: one of the biggest drivers of America’s health care worker shortage is the cost of medical education.  Doctors graduating medical school with $200,000 or $300,000 in student loan debt or more can hardly consider taking positions in rural and underserved areas.  They have to pay off those loans.  Because of those debts they may not be able to do what they want to do… So with the National Health Service Corps and Nurse Corps, aspiring health care professionals have another option.”

Durbin secured a historic $1 billion in scholarship and loan repayment funding for NHSC and Nurse Corps in the American Rescue Plan to recruit more doctors, nurses, dentists, and behavioral health providers to underserved rural and urban areas.  

Today, 21 million Americans receive their health care from these National Health Service Corps clinicians.  Durbin received a letter from one of those health care heroes, Shannon, who is a licensed clinical social worker in Illinois.  Shannon is a first-generation college student from a working class background, who feared she could not afford graduate school.  In July 2022, Shannon was accepted into the National Health Service Corp Loan Repayment Program thanks to that funding in the American Rescue Plan

Durbin continued, “In Shannon’s words, ‘being accepted into this program has changed my life in so many ways… [It] has given me a chance at financial freedom... [and] professionally, this program has allowed me to grow into my career.’  Today, Shannon is working for a behavioral health care provider in Carbondale, Illinois… We need to make more stories like Shannon’s possible.  And we have a chance to do that with my bipartisan bill with Senator Rubio.”  

“If you go home to your state as a United States Senator and you visit and ask local health care providers, they're going to tell you the same thing from one corner of America to the other—we are in desperate need of medical professionals to care for people who are underserved now.  What are we going to do about it?  What is the Senate going to do about it?  What will our generation do about it? Can we put together the resources now to meet these shortages and needs in the health care workforce? That's the challenge that we face,” Durbin concluded.

The NHSC is up for reauthorization this fall and Durbin is committed to working with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) to pass his bipartisan bill.

The NHSC addresses workforce shortages and health disparities by enticing promising students from diverse backgrounds into health careers by providing scholarship and loan repayment funding in exchange for a service commitment in an underserved urban or rural area.  Across Illinois, more than 935 clinicians with NHSC serve in community health centers and hospitals.  

Durbin and Rubio previously introduced the Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act, legislation that provides a historic investment in the 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.

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here. 

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.