February 8, 2017

Report: Rural Health a Target for Harm by Trump Travel Ban

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EDITOR’S NOTE: A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to issue a decision on the federal government’s request to lift a district court judge’s order that blocked enforcement of President Trump’s travel ban directive.

Concerns over constitutionality aside, the recently enacted international travel ban put in place via executive order by President Donald J. Trump could threaten the viability of the nation’s already shaky rural healthcare system, according to a report published this week on CNN.com.

Rural health relies hugely on foreign doctors, especially in underserved areas, according to author Parija Kavilanz with CNN Money.

“There could very well be a patient in a rural area who had an appointment with their doctor this week and the doctor was not allowed back into the country," Matthew Shick, director of government relations and regulatory counsel with the American Association of Medical Colleges, was quoted as saying in the article. "At a time when the United States is facing a serious shortage of physicians, international medical students are helping to fill an essential need,"

Each year, Kavilanz wrote, more than 6,000 medical trainees from foreign countries participate in medical residency programs through J-1 non-immigrant visas, according to the American Association of Medical College (AAMC). J-1 visa holders who were out of the country when the ban went into effect won't be able to start or finish school unless it's lifted.

Once they complete their residency, the report explained, physicians can either return to their home country for two years before they are eligible to re-enter the U.S. through a different immigration pathway, such as an H1-B worker visa, or they can apply for a Conrad 30 J-1 Visa Waiver, which allows them to extend their stay in the U.S. – as long as they commit to serving in rural and underserved areas for three years.

In the last 15 years, Kavilanz wrote, the Conrad 30 J-1 Waiver has funneled 15,000 foreign physicians into underserved communities.

"Even though this is a little known visa program, the J-1 Visa Waiver has done more to recruit physicians to underserved areas in this country than even the National Health Services Corps," Shick added.

CNN further reported that the American Medical Association, which represents medical doctors across the country, sent a letter Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security asking for clarity on the visa ban.

"While we understand the importance of a reliable system for vetting people from entering the United States, it is vitally important that this process not impact patient access to timely medical treatment or restrict physicians and international medical graduates (IMGs) who have been granted visas to train, practice in the United States," the letter said.

The AMA stressed that the ban would worsen access to health care in rural areas, noting that foreign medical graduates are "more likely to practice in underserved and poor communities, and to fill training positions in primary care and other specialties that face significant workforce shortages."

Mark Spivey

Mark Spivey is a national correspondent for RACmonitor.com who has been writing on numerous topics facing the nation’s healthcare system (and federal oversight of it) for five years. 

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