California worst in meeting community healthcare needs

Leading healthcare advocates and civil justice groups Thursday urged legislators and Governor Schwarzenegger to pass SB 726 (Ashburn), legislation that would expand and extend a pilot program under the Medical Board of California, allowing hospitals in rural and low-income communities to directly employ needed physicians. The pilot program would provide doctors in identified high-need areas stable employment, benefits, and financial stability - eliminating barriers to treating uninsured and government insured patients."Findings show that California leads the nation in areas with severe doctor shortages. Three California communities - Fresno, San Joaquin and Kern - rank among the 10 worst in the nation in terms of unmet healthcare needs," said Ralph Ferguson, president and CEO of the Association of California Healthcare Districts. According to Health Access, California's healthcare needs are more complex, acute and urgent than in many other states: 6.5 million Californians are uninsured; workers are less likely to have employer healthcare coverage; more workers are low-wage earners; and 7 million Californians depend on Medi-Cal or Healthy Families. Patients in many communities - especially rural and low-income - do not have access to doctors because the healthcare facilities that serve them cannot hire doctors. According to the California Medical Association, 70% of doctors do not treat Medi-Cal insured patients because Medi-Cal reimbursement covers less than half the cost of care. "With millions of Californians uninsured and facing other barriers to getting care, we need health reform-and in the short term, we need to be creative in finding solutions. One step is to rethinking some of the limits on physician hiring, so we can facilitate doctors working in low-income and rural communities," said Anthony Wright, executive director, Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition. "After years of studying California's ban on direct physician hiring, I am convinced that it contributes significantly to doctor shortages in rural and lower income communities. The rate of preventable hospital admissions in these high-need areas is 60% higher than in lower-need areas," said Dr. Larry L. Bedard, former president, American College of Emergency Physicians and former chair, California Medical Association Corporate Practice of Medicine Advisory Committee. "SB 726 is our best chance to make meaningful improvement to California healthcare policy now, at no cost to California taxpayers. By bringing more doctors to medically underserved communities we can lower the burden of health care costs, both human and economic," said Senator Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield), the bill's author. "Lifting the physician hiring ban for hospitals in high need and rural communities - a practice approved by the American Medical Association, the Medical Board of California, and common and effective in 45 states - would improve healthcare access for all Californians."

********** Published: March 12, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 47