New bill could help ease physician shortage
HARTFORD -- Dr. Steven Levine says he fears that one day medical care will be doled out like driver's licenses, with throngs of agitated people packed into a room waiting for hours in the hopes that their number will be called.
Like many doctors throughout the nation, Levine, a senior attending surgeon at Bridgeport Hospital, has watched the number of physicians dwindle. Something, he said, needs to be done to fix the shortage and he's hoping legislation heading to a public hearing Thursday is a step in the right direction.
The bill would allow up to 10 communities in the state to be designated as "targeted health areas" if they have a medically underserved population or a population with a high rate of chronic disease. Physicians and physicians' offices in those communities would be eligible for loans, hiring incentives and matching grants for physician recruitment and other needs. The proposal would require approval of $10 million in state bonding.
Matthew Katz, CSMS executive vice president and chief executive officer, said several areas throughout Fairfield and New Haven counties likely qualify as underserved areas. For instance, he said, Bridgeport would be an excellent candidate for the benefits the legislation would provide. "It's a wonderful city, but they don't have a large enough number of physicians," Katz said.
Details of the bill were unveiled Wednesday at a news conference at the state Capitol. Dr. Michael M. Krinsky, president of the CSMS, said a major goal of the legislation is to attract doctors to Connecticut and keep them here.
"For as small a state as Connecticut is, there aren't enough physicians to go around," he said.
Levine has watched as promising future doctors educated in Connecticut left the state to practice elsewhere.
"If we lose the individual private practice physician and patients can't get care from them, what will be the solution?" said Levine, who is also president of the Connecticut Ear, Nose and Throat Society.
According to research by CSMS, one in four primary care physicians in the state isn't accepting new patients and many patients are waiting up to a month for an appointment with certain doctors.
The problem isn't just local. In 2010, there was a shortage of 13,700 physicians nationwide, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit organization that represents faculty members, medical students, and resident physicians. The gap between doctors and patients is expected to get even wider in 2014 when the biggest piece of the health care reform package passed in 2010 goes into effect that gives 32 million more Americans access to health insurance.
In Connecticut, one of the big factors causing the shortage is that too many doctors educated here leave the state to practice. "A lot of physicians trained in Connecticut don't stay in Connecticut," said Dr. Charles Littlejohn, member of the CSMS council and a Stamford resident. "We have some of the best medical schools in the country and people are leaving."
Krinsky and other supporters of the legislation said it would allow private practices in the target areas to provide incentives to bring more physicians to the region. Money available through the legislation also could be used for capital improvements, such as using electronic medical records systems.
Wednesday's news conference was part of Doctors' Day at the Capitol, during which physicians from all over the state had a chance to learn about legislation that could affect them.
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