Package of bills to increase number of physicians in rural, underserved areas signed by Governor Brown

September 10, 2013
Area(s) of Interest: Access to Care Advocacy 

Sacramento – Two bills that would put more physicians in rural and underserved parts of California were signed by Governor Jerry Brown. SB 21 and AB 1288 were both sponsored by the California Medical Association (CMA).

The 2013-14 state budget included a $15 million annual appropriation to fully fund the University of California Riverside School of Medicine (UCR SOM). The Inland Empire, including Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, is experiencing the lowest supply of physicians per capital than any other region of the state. Allocating a continuous funding source for UCR SOM helps to ensure that more physicians are graduating medical school and practicing in the communities where they’ve been educated.

SB 21 (Roth) takes it a step further, by requesting the UCR SOM to identify eligible medical residents and assist them with applying to physician retention programs, including the successful Steve Thompson Loan Repayment Program (STLRP). The STLRP pays medical education debt up to $105,000 in exchange for a commitment to practice for at least three years in an underserved or rural part of the state.

“SB 21 will help provide medical students access to residency programs and funding they need to continue their service and commitment to the critical health care services needed by the people of Inland Southern California,” said Senator Richard D. Roth (D-Riverside).

“Establishment of a funding source for the UCR SOM is a huge step in the right direction,” said Paul R. Phinney, M.D., CMA president. “Additional solutions such as SB 21 will only help to increase the number of physicians in the areas that need them most. CMA applauds Senator Roth for his commitment to the issue.”

AB 1288 (V.M. Perez) also aids in getting more physicians to areas where they are needed most. The bill requires the Medical Board of California and the Osteopathic Medical Board of California to develop a process giving priority review status to the applications of physicians who can demonstrate that they intend to practice in a medically underserved area or serve a medically underserved population.

“There are physicians ready to serve patients in areas where access to care is tough, but cannot do so because of delays in the licensing process. AB 1288 puts these applications at the top of the pile, speeding up access to care for patients who need it most," added Dr. Phinney.

AB 1288 will not change the vigorous standards of the Medical Practice Act, but will instead focus the board’s resources on the areas and populations with the greatest need.

“Rural and underserved areas face a number of barriers in recruiting and attracting physicians, but slow state bureaucracy should not be one of them,” said Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez, who represents the Coachella and Imperial Valleys of southeastern California. “AB 1288 will help build the ranks of qualified physicians in medically underserved communities and it is one part of the solution to address the medical workforce needs facing our state as we approach the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.”

In addition to SB 21 and AB 1288, AB 565 (Salas) broadens eligibility for the STLRP to encourage more physicians to move to underserved areas. The bill passed the legislature and is awaiting signature from Governor Brown.

“People in rural communities deserve the same high-level of access to quality doctors as those in other parts of the state,” said Assemblymember Salas. “This bill will alleviate the shortage of physicians found in so many rural communities throughout the Central Valley by incentivizing new doctors to stay in medically underserved areas.”


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