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Klobuchar introduces bill to encourage rural doctors

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., have introduced bipartisan legislation to boost the number of doctors able to work in rural America. The Conrad State 30 & Physician Access Act would allow international doctors to remain in the U.S. upon completing their residency under the condition that they practice in underserved areas, such as rural communities, a news release from Klobuchar's office said Monday.

"Rural communities in Minnesota and across the country are short on doctors, and they rely on the Conrad 30 program to fill the gaps. Over the last 15 years, the Conrad 30 program has brought more than 15,000 physicians to underserved areas," Klobuchar said. "It doesn't make sense to force doctors that we educate and train right here in the U.S. to leave our country once their residency is over. Our bipartisan legislation would make this critical program permanent, allow doctors to remain in the communities they serve, and improve healthcare for families across the nation."

Currently doctors from other countries working in America on J-1 visas are required to return to their home country after their residency has ended for two years before they can apply for another visa or green card. The Conrad 30 program allows doctors to stay in the U.S without having to return home if they agree to practice in an underserved area for three years. The "30" refers to the number of doctors per state that can participate in the program.

The senators' legislation extends the Conrad 30 program until 2021, improves the process for obtaining a visa, and allows for the program to be expanded beyond 30 slots if certain thresholds are met, while still protecting small states, the release said. The bill also allows the spouses of doctors to work and provides worker protections to prevent the doctors from being mistreated. A version of the bill was included as an amendment in the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013.

The legislation has received the endorsement of the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the American Association of Medical Colleges.

The American Association of Medical Colleges went on to say that the current version of the Conrad 30 program will expire April 28, and urged swift action to extend the program.