New senate bill to tackle U.S. nursing shortage

U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is resurrecting a bill he first introduced in 2007 to address the nursing shortage in United States.

The Health Access and Health Professionals Supply Act of 2009, or SB 790, would increase the number of healthcare professionals, including nurses and nurse practitioners, in the rural parts of the country through financial assistance and incentives.

The bill would, among other things, provide grants to nursing schools enabling them to increase enrollment in their doctoral programs, create a U.S. Public Health Sciences track at certain higher-education institutions to train healthcare workers and assist rural hospitals in establishing community-based training for healthcare workers in underserved areas.

The original bill had no opportunity to pass, said Jude McCartin, a staff member in Senator Bingaman’s office. “The previous administration did not support the legislation and there was no ‘vehicle’ to attach it to,” she said.

This time around, SB 790 has “good support,” according to McCartin. “Sen. Bingaman believes we have a more receptive White House, and a good opportunity to address this important issue in the health insurance reform legislation,” she said.

With his Aug. 25 death, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) left an open chair on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on health insurance market reforms. While chairman, Kennedy appointed Bingaman to chair hearings on the panel’s healthcare reform working group on insurance coverage.

“The HELP reform bill, the health insurance reform legislation, contained provisions to address nurse faculty shortages - and nurse shortages generally,” McCartin said.

As the health insurance reform bill moves along, so too will the status of SB 790, she said. While the fate of the bill is tied to the larger reform bill, McCartin noted that she is unaware of any group actively opposing SB 790.