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Where are the Doctors?

Created: 11 September, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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3 min read

 Who could possibly argue that low-income, isolated, and minority communities don’t deserve access to doctors? Who could argue that California should uphold an outdated statute that has resulted in the state leading the nation in its number of citizens who can’t get access to a doctor?

 We have a chance — right now— to make a meaningful, positive, life-saving, and community-empowering change in healthcare policy that will cost state tax payers nothing, that will deliver desperately needed doctors to medically underserved (and unserved) communities, and that will bring California in line with virtually every other state in the nation when it comes to lifting barriers to medical care for the most vulnerable.

 By letting rural hospitals (and district hospitals and clinics that serve our poorest communities) recruit and hire doctors — like state and county hospitals and clinics have for decades — we will go a long way towards ensuring that all Californians have equal access to medical care.

 The Medical Board of California, AARP, Dolores Huerta Foundation, California State Association of Counties, The California Hospital Association, and a long list of other highly respected and diverse organizations support lifting the outdated “physician-hiring ban”.

 They know that the average age of doctors now working in California’s rural and medically underserved communities is 60, and most will retire soon.  They know that nearly 60 percent of California’s doctors do not treat Medi-Cal patients, because Medi-Cal pays as little as $24 per office visit when the cost of care is more than double that.  They also know that according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services more than 3,000,000 Californians currently have NO access to doctors.

 SB 726 (Ashburn), which will allow rural hospitals and Health Care Districts to recruit and hire doctors, has bipartisan support, because lifting the “physician-hiring ban” now is critical — before our communities’ doctor shortage gets even worse.  It is also long overdue.  Legislators on both sides of the aisle have set aside politics and agreed on a workable and simple solution to a very serious problem.

 The only party that won’t put down the sword is the California Medical Association (CMA)— because of politics and profits. Ironically, the American Medical Association officially approves of direct physician employment as long as non-physicians do not get involved in medical decisions.

 The Medical Board of California — which ran a pilot program allowing some rural District hospitals to hire physicians — supports an expansion of the hiring program and considers lifting the hiring ban a critical tool in easing doctor shortages.

 SB 726 will face a tough go in the Senate this week because of its single formidable and politically powerful opponent. We hope that reason, good sense, and fairness will prevail. Because, who wouldn’t agree that all Californians deserve access to doctors? We urge our colleagues in the California Assembly and Senate to join us in supporting SB 726, a no-cost solution to an emerging health care crisis.