Sen. David Frockt today introduced a bill to reduce the state’s primary care shortage and encourage health professionals to practice in underserved areas.
A group of Washington’s leading provider organizations representing dentists, physicians, nurses, community health centers and hospitals applauded his leadership and lent their support to the bill.
Senate Bill 5010 would allocate $8 million in the 2015-2017 biennium for Washington’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Fund, which encourages healthcare students and qualified healthcare professionals to practice in underserved areas by helping pay down the tremendous cost of student loans.
“Medicaid expansion and Qualified Health Plans through the Health Benefit Exchange extended health insurance to more than 600,000 individuals in Washington who did not previously have coverage, which is significant,” Frockt said. “But we must have an adequate workforce to meet this increased demand. Providing underserved communities additional resources to recruit qualified health professionals reinforces the state’s commitment to improve access to comprehensive healthcare for all persons in Washington.”
A recent study by the Robert Graham Center projects that maintaining Washington’s current primary care utilization rates state will require 1,695 additional primary care physicians by 2030, a 32 percent increase from the state’s current 5,141 primary care physician workforce. In addition, the state’s physician workforce is aging, with two-thirds of physicians in rural counties age 55 or older , and about one in five primary care physicians planning to retire in the next few years , according to reports by the WWAMI Center for Health Workforce Studies.
“Having access to insurance coverage does not guarantee access to care,” said Brian Seppi, MD, president of the Washington State Medical Association. “There must be healthcare professionals available to treat these patients, particularly in underserved areas. Student loan repayment is a proven way to encourage primary care providers starting out their careers to settle in these underserved areas.”
Teresita Batayola, president of the Washington Association of Community and Migrant Health Centers, called the loan repayment program “an essential recruitment and retention tool for key safety net providers, such as community health centers, to secure a reliable workforce for underserved populations and in urban and rural areas across the state.”
Elizabeth Jensen, a pharmacist at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Toppenish, said the program “draws many new clinicians to our practice. Though I really enjoy my work setting and my clientele, I can admit that the repayment program opened my eyes to this site. I think that once you can draw clinicians to the sites, it allows them to see the need and the rewarding nature of the work, and makes them want to stay.”