On March 28, presidential hopeful Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced Senate Bill 948: The Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act. The bill is co-sponsored by Susan Collins (R-Maine), Angus King (I-Maine), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada).

We have previously written about a local pediatrician at Fairmont Clinic, Seeta Ram R. Vangala, who has spoken in support of the bill, which he says will make working in rural and underserviced areas more attractive for international medical graduates.

The bill would amend the existing Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act to provide incentives for medical professionals to practice in areas that are medically underserved and allow extensions to the nonimmigrant status of doctors who have come from outside the U.S. to serve.

First passed in 1994, the law permits states to recommend “J-1 waivers” for foreign physicians who have trained in J-1 visa status in the U.S. in return for living and working in rural, underserved areas. The standard requirement that J-1 physicians must return to their home countries for 2 years before obtaining an H-1B visa or green card could be waived in exchange for a three-year commitment to provide medical care in rural areas of need.

Klobuchar’s bill would update the J-30 law and prevent it from ending in 2021.

West Virginia is no stranger to issues with health care access.

A study by the Robert Graham Center concluded that the rural central and southern parts of the state are in need of primary care physicians, and that the majority of “graduates of West Virginia medical schools and residency programs not practicing in central and southern parts of the state; these areas are farther away from residency program and medical school locations.”

Furthermore, the study noted that despite a decreasing population, healthcare workforce projections reveal an increasing demand for primary care physicians in West Virginia due to an aging population and an increasing number of newly insured.

Location of health care can also indirectly contribute to the price of health care, with increased distance creating travel expenses.

According to research by The Commonwealth Fund, 18% of adults in West Virginia went without health care because it was cost-prohibitive. With a lack of preventative care due to distance and cost, more serious medical conditions can develop and create more cost on the health care system than it would have with early care. This is a problem that our state has to reckon with, and states around the nation face similar problems.

Almost four months after being introduced, however, the proposed bill has had no action taken. We would urge our representatives to pay attention to S. 948 and realize the needs it would help address in West Virginia, and we hope to see this bill do more than stagnate in Washington.

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