Senators eye bipartisan solutions to healthcare worker shortage

Lawmakers expressed optimism for bipartisan solutions to the U.S. healthcare worker shortage during a recent meeting of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Kaiser Health News reported.

The hearing, titled "Examining Health Care Workforce Shortages: Where Do We Go From Here?" took place Feb. 16.

"We are going to produce legislation, and I think people will be surprised about the level of bipartisan supporters," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the new chairman of the Senate's top health committee, told Kaiser Health News during a break from the hearing. 

Hospitals and health systems across the country continue to face workforce challenges, including staff shortages. Organizations have responded to these challenges in various ways, including compensation, perks beyond pay, upskilling their workforce and providing more flexibility to staff through initiatives such as virtual nursing programs

At the federal level, the American Hospital Association has called on Congress to take action toward addressing these challenges via solutions such as boosting the number of residency slots eligible for Medicare funding. The group is also asking Congress to invest in nursing schools, nurse faculty salaries and hospital training time; address violence against healthcare workers; and support continuation of visa waivers for physicians in medically underserved areas, among other requests.

During the hearing, senators agreed on some strategies to address the healthcare worker shortage, including encouraging community college and other lower-cost educational options and supporting the National Health Service Corps, which provides scholarships and loan repayment to physicians practicing in underserved areas, according to Kaiser Health News.

"I think the fact that the committee has made this the first hearing means a number of us have bills. We may try to take a bunch of them up together and see if we can combine them into something," Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said while referencing the idea of expanding loan forgiveness for those willing to work in areas with shortages, according to the publication. "I think there's great prospects for bipartisan progress on this."

To read the full Kaiser Health News report, click here.

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