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Health Reform Challenge: More Doctors Needed

March 23, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - With more people expected to gain access to health insurance under federal reform, the next hurdle may be finding doctors and other health professionals to take care of them, especially in rural areas. Dr. James Dolan, president of the Florida Medical Association, says there is already a shortage of doctors here because of an increasing number of physicians who are retiring from the profession, and the difficulty of recruiting new ones to the state. He adds that most working doctors do not want to accept the lower reimbursement rate of Medicaid, and the bill will dramatically increase the number of Medicaid patients.

"What this legislation will do, as best we can estimate, will put another 1.5 million to 1.7 million eligible persons into the Florida Medicaid system, which we already don't have sufficient specialists to supply; so I don't really understand how we're going to be able to take care of those folks."

Dolan says part of the problem is a shortage of what he calls "homegrown doctors," which Florida lawmakers sought to fix with hundreds of new residency positions in the bill. Money will also be available to fund scholarships and loan repayment assistance for health professionals who agree to work in communities that are short on providers.

Dolan says physician pay has decreased 25 percent in the last decade, and their frustration has increased. He says physicians are taking early retirement rather than pay cuts, and the state isn't training enough physicians to fill their shoes. To make matters worse, he says, the state has trouble recruiting new doctors from outside.

"Florida has a very negative reputation among residents outside the state of Florida as being a hostile environment to practice medicine, and I've heard that's the reason it's difficult to recruit physicians into the state of Florida."

The Dakotas and Florida have vast stretches of rural areas and face some of the same health care issues. Karen Larson, deputy director with Community HealthCare Association of the Dakotas, says access to care is just as important as affordable care.

"I think that not having to drive long, long distances for primary health care and basic health services is extremely important."

The reform package includes $11 billion for expanding community health centers and building new ones to help address the problem.



Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL