The AHA yesterday called for swift enactment of the Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Act, S. 1189, legislation aimed at helping to address physician shortages in medically underserved areas of the country.

 Sen. Amy Klochubar, D-Minn., introduced the bill last May. The legislation would make the Conrad 30 program permanent – it’s set to expire on Sept. 30 – and allow states to increase the number of physicians in the program from 30 to 35 and possibly more, depending on the program’s usage. The legislation also would better align visa terms with residency training and physician practice.

 “Our nation’s rural and inner city hospitals struggle to recruit and retain physicians, and the supply of primary care providers in such areas is steadily decreasing,” AHA Executive Vice President Tom Nickels wrote Klochubar in a Sept. 1 letter of support for her bill. “In many areas of our nation, the Conrad State 30 physician is the only source of primary health care.” 

 Under U.S. immigration law, foreign students admitted to the U.S. to attend medical school are granted J-1 visas. The visas require them to return to their countries for two years after completing their education before they can apply for an immigrant visa, permanent U.S. residency or an additional nonimmigrant visa.

 The Conrad State 30 program enables these foreign-born physicians to get a new visa if they agree to perform 40 hours a week of primary care in a medically underserved area for three years. Their wages are required by law to match those of similarly skilled American colleagues. When they complete their obligation, they are allowed permanent legal residency and can pursue U.S. citizenship.

 About 4,000 J-1 doctors are employed nationally under the program, which Congress created in 1995.