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Schatz, Barrasso Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation To Help Bring More Doctors, Surgeons To Areas That Need Them Most

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) reintroduced the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act, bipartisan legislation that would produce high quality data on where general surgeons are in short supply around the country.

“We have a doctor shortage crisis in Hawai‘i, and it’s having a real impact on families living in hard-to-reach areas across the state,” Senator Schatz said. “Our bill will help us better understand where the shortages exist so that we can work to bring more doctors and surgeons to the communities that need them most.”

“People living and working in a rural communities know a general surgeon can make all the difference in an emergency. When I was practicing medicine in Wyoming, I saw firsthand the important work of general surgeons in rural America. This bipartisan legislation is a concrete step Congress can take to ensure that Americans in rural communities continue to have access to the health care they need,” said Senator Barrasso.

The Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act would direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a study on access by underserved populations to general surgeons and the designation of general surgery shortage areas. Such an area is defined as an urban, suburban, or rural area of the United States with a population that is underserved by general surgeons.

The need for general surgeons is especially high in rural and other under-served communities. In Hawai‘i, there is a 23 percent shortage in general surgeons for the state overall. And on Maui, they have a shortage of 43 percent of the surgeons needed to serve residents on the island, forcing many to travel off island to receive the care that they need.

“In light of growing evidence demonstrating a shortage and potential maldistribution of general surgeons, the American College of Surgeons believes that additional research is necessary to better understand where these shortage areas exist,” said David Hoyt, MD, FACS, Executive Director of the American College of Surgeons. “Determining where patients lack access to surgical services and designating a formal surgical shortage area will provide the Department of Health and Human Services with a valuable new tool for increasing access to the full spectrum of high-quality health care services. Incentivizing general surgeons to locate or remain in communities with workforce shortages could become critical in guaranteeing all Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of geographic location, have access to quality surgical care.”

“In an island state like ours, or any rural area, access to general surgery is essential. It is very difficult to transfer a patient with a surgical emergency, so without a surgeon, even simple cases such as appendicitis, can result in unnecessary death,” said Dr. Kelley Withy, Professor, AHEC Director, and Hawai‘i Physician Workforce Researcher for the University of Hawai‘i’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.

“As a practicing general surgeon in Hawai‘i for 30 years, I know that access to general surgery services is critical to improving health outcomes and saving lives. The current supply of general surgeons will not be able to keep pace with our growing and aging population. This legislation will help determine which areas in Hawai‘i are most in need and how we can best target effective solutions so that everyone across the islands has access to high quality surgical care regardless of where they live,” said Whitney Limm MD, FACS, Governor of the Hawai‘i Chapter of the American College of Surgeons.