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Potential Visa, Health Care Changes Put Pressure on ND Medicine

About 4.7 percent of doctors in North Dakota are part of the H-1B visa program, the highest rate in the country. (sasint/Pixabay)
About 4.7 percent of doctors in North Dakota are part of the H-1B visa program, the highest rate in the country. (sasint/Pixabay)
May 30, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. – Medical professionals in North Dakota are facing pressure from all sides, feeling the pains of a growing shortage of doctors and potential changes to a visa program that helps supply doctors and wondering what will happen to health insurance at the federal level.

President Donald Trump's review of the H-1B visa program has raised anxiety for the Peace Garden State, where 4.7 percent of physicians come from the program, and the highest rate in the country.

Courtney Koebele, executive director of the North Dakota Medical Association, says the state's rural nature can make it hard to attract doctors.

"The H-1 visa program helps us recruit people that normally wouldn't consider North Dakota, and what we hope is that the people come here to work and they fall in love with North Dakota and they stay," she states.

There are around 400 foreign-born doctors working in North Dakota. In fact, the vice president of Koebele's association, Dr. Fadel Nammour, came to the United States from Lebanon through the visa program and now works as a gastroenterologist in Fargo.

Koebele says people in rural parts of the state sometimes have to drive hundreds of miles to see a specialist.

She's also worried about proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid. Trump's recent budget proposal suggested cutting Medicaid by $800 billion over the next decade and the American Health Care Act could affect funding for Medicare.

Koebele says that could be bad news for North Dakotans looking for doctors.

"As we cut back on these low-income protections like Medicaid and Medicare, that really undercuts the whole system because if there's a shortage of doctors for Medicaid and Medicare, then there's a shortage of doctors for everybody," she stresses.

Koebele notes there also are problems with the Affordable Care Act that need fixing. The nation faces a shortage of doctors as the population ages.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the country could be in need of an additional 95,000 doctors by 2025.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND