Cite as "Posted on AILA InfoNet at Doc. No.
02121842 (Dec. 18, 2002) ."
United States Department of Health and Human Services
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2002
Contact: HRSA Press Office
HHS To Expand Access To Care In Rural
and Other Communities by Reviewing Waiver Requests Involving Foreign
HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced new regulations
to help rural and other communities suffering from a shortage of
health care providers by allowing HHS to request waivers of a return-home
requirement for foreign physicians who trained in the United States.
Under the new regulations, HHS will expand its efforts to ensure
that qualified physicians are available to improve access to care
in health professional shortage areas and medically underserved
"People who live in these underserved communities deserve the
same access to primary care as other Americans, and we will do all
that we can to help these communities recruit qualified foreign
physicians when necessary," Secretary Thompson said. "We
want to make sure that this critical source of talented physicians
continues to be available to the communities that desperately need
The new rules will allow HHS to review applications from community
health centers, rural hospitals and other health care providers
to waive return-home requirements for foreign physicians who come
to America for medical training so that they can remain in the country
to practice in underserved areas. HHS would make recommendations
on these requests to the State Department. The USCIS has the authority to grant waivers.
Normally under the State Department's J-1 visa program, foreigners
who come to the United States for graduate medical education must
return to their home countries for two years after they complete
their training. However, the State Department may recommend to the
USCIS that it grant waivers of that requirement when an interested
government agency requests them to fulfill a legitimate public purpose.
In the past, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) served as
the interested federal government agency that reviewed waiver applications
to allow foreign doctors to serve in rural, underserved communities
outside Appalachia, while the Appalachian Regional Commission played
that role for Appalachian communities. With the new regulations,
HHS now will take over the role formerly played by the USDA in handling
applications for these J-1 waivers.
HHS will review the applications and verify the physicians' credentials
through a federal credentialing process before making recommendations
to the State Department. HHS also will coordinate its review process
with state health departments. HHS already reviews waiver requests
involving foreign physicians working in high-level biomedical research
projects of interest to the department.
"By helping review these waiver requests, we can help increase
the supply of qualified physicians available to provide needed care
in community health centers and other locations in rural communities
and other underserved areas," Secretary Thompson said. "Their
contribution is critical to the success of our broader efforts to
expand Americans' access to care."
President Bush and HHS have launched a five-year initiative to add
or expand health centers in 1,200 communities by 2006 and to increase
the number of patients served annually to more than 16 million --
up from 10 million in 2001. In fiscal year 2002, the first full
year of the President's initiative, HHS funded 171 new health center
sites and awarded 131 grants to existing centers to help them build
capacity and expand services.
To support the growth of the health centers, HHS is also expanding
its National Health Service Corps, which offers scholarships and
loan repayment plans to students and fully trained clinicians who
agree to serve in health centers and other underserved communities.
The J-1 waiver program complements those efforts.
In 2001, Secretary Thompson launched a broad Initiative on Rural
America to improve access to health care and social services in
rural communities. In July, the department's Rural Task Force issued
a report highlighting new approaches to improve access to services;
strengthen rural families; support rural economic development; improve
coordination among state, local and tribal governments; and conduct
more and better research on the needs of rural communities.
HHS will publish the new regulations related to processing waiver
requests in the Dec. 19 Federal Register as an interim final rule
with a 45-day public comment period. Public comments would be considered
to make appropriate changes to the regulations.
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