(SACRAMENTO) – Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez is pleased to report that this morning his bill, Priority Licensing for Medically Underserved Populations, AB 1288, passed the Assembly Committee on Business, Professions, and Consumer Protection, garnering bipartisan support with a vote of 12-1.
“We know that rural and underserved areas face many barriers in recruiting and attracting physicians, but slow state bureaucracy should not be one of them,” said Pérez. “In parts of the Coachella Valley and Imperial County, we have one physician for 8,000 individuals. We as a state should be doing all we can to build the ranks of physicians willing and able to practice in medically underserved communities.”
AB 1288, Priority Licensing for Medically Underserved Populations, would require the Medical Board of California to develop a process to give ‘priority review’ status to an applicant who can demonstrate that he or she intends to practice in a medically underserved area or serve a medically underserved population. The bill will not change the rigorous standards of the Medical Practice Act but will instead focus the Board’s resources on the areas and populations with the greatest need.
According to the California HealthCare Foundation, the number of primary care physicians actively practicing in California is at the very bottom range of the state’s need, based on estimates by the Council on Graduate Medical Education. Currently, just 16 of California’s 58 counties have the federal government’s recommended supply of primary care physicians. Riverside County – the fastest growing county in California – is the only one with a population of one million to have fewer than 100 physicians per 100,000 people.
Rural counties suffer in particular from low physician practice rates and from a diminishing supply of primary care physicians. In general, rural counties tend to have far fewer physicians per capita than urban counties. Several rural counties also face the additional hardship of an aging primary care physician workforce, and an apparent difficulty recruiting younger physicians to take their places. Nearly 30% of the state’s doctors are nearing retirement age, the highest percentage in the nation. This issue was brought into focus last week, when the California Medical Board suspended the license of an 81-year-old Coachella Valley physician because of his dementia and mental state.
One of the barriers to responding to the physician shortage is the slow state licensing process. Rural communities struggle to attract trained doctors, only to lose the applicant when it takes too long to get a license. The physician licensing process can be lengthy from start to finish. In fact, applicants are encouraged to start the application process at least six to nine months before they need licensure.
Testifying at today’s hearing, Eduardo Martinez of the California Medical Association stated, “We are proud to be the sponsors of the AB 1288, the State of California has a physician shortage in particular regions such as Assemblymember Pérez District. The California Medical Association believes this bill would assist the licensee applicants who recognize and have a desire to serve these severely underserved communities. The California Medical Association views AB 1288 as a really important piece of a multi-pronged effort to get physicians into where they are most needed.”
The demand for primary care physicians in the state will only increase due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, with millions of Californians becoming insured and millions more gaining improved benefits.