Merced County and other regions in need of health practitioners could see the arrival of more doctors – thanks, in part, to a bill authored by Assemblyman Adam Gray.
The bill, AB 2048, was signed into law last week by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The National Health Service Corps State Loan Repayment Program legislation will allow all federally qualified health centers, such as Golden Valley Health Centers and Livingston Community Health, to apply for federal funds that repay the educational loans of practitioners who agree to work in areas with a shortage of providers.
Gray, D-Merced, described the application process for the program as “cumbersome” and said only a third of health centers in California were able to “jump through the hoops to even be eligible to apply,” according to a statement.
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“The good news is, all clinics will be eligible now,” Gray told the Sun-Star. “More doctors need to be recruited to Merced County.”
All of Merced County is considered a “health professional shortage area,” according to the 2016 Community Health Assessment by the Merced County Department of Public Health. The county has 45.4 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents, which is far below California’s rate of 77.3 per 100,000 or the national ratio of 74.5.
Medical professional and county officials said part of it has to do with Merced County’s relatively remote location and the competition from larger communities where new doctors can earn more and pay off their school loans more easily.
“It’s important to be aware that we don’t have enough providers in the area,” Gray said. “This is a small step in the right direction to keep pursuing ways to attract health care practitioners to the Valley.”
It’s important to be aware that we don’t have enough providers in the area. This is a small step in the right direction to keep pursuing ways to attract health care practitioners to the Valley.
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced
The State Loan Repayment Program gives $1 million in federal funds to California every year to repay student loans for practitioners who agree to work in areas short of providers.
Clinics are required to provide matching funds. Gray said his next step will be to change that so the state would provide the money instead.
Gray introduced the bill after learning about the difficulties Livingston Community Health and other Central Valley health networks face when trying to apply for the program.
Gray told the Sun-Star that his inspiration came from his efforts to help “poor, vulnerable communities that need health care,” as well as finding ways to bring more doctors to communities like Merced.
“Increasing healthcare access is one of my top priorities,” Gray said. “It has the potential to attract providers to underserved regions like ours.”