Guest column: Incentives can address Michigan's rural doctor shortage

By Rep. Jim Ananich and Rep. Frank Foster

Everyone in Michigan, regardless of where you live or where you’re traveling through, deserves access to basic, primary health care. Unfortunately, a shortage of specially trained doctors and medical professionals in some areas provides a costly barrier for too many families. Recent coverage in Bridge rightly pointed out this growing concern, and it is an issue that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working to address.

One of the ways we can ensure adequate access is by providing incentives for those specializing in primary care to work in underserved areas of Michigan. Increasing student debt for new doctors, combined with the lure of specialties and locales that can be more profitable, create a roadblock for many who might otherwise be willing to serve these communities.

That is why a bipartisan group of legislators from across the state recently proposed a new Frontline Health Provider Program. The plan creates scholarships and loan repayments for health professionals in high need areas, such as primary care, family medicine, and pediatrics, among others.

Participants would be required to serve in Michiganin underserved areas for several years to satisfy the objectives of the program. The Department of Community Health, in consultation with local community health experts and national data, will determine which professions among those eligible are the most urgent priority, and which locations are most in need.

The advantages of investing in this type of approach are numerous. It allows for addressing immediate needs through loan repayments, which has the added benefit of attracting highly skilled workers. Also, through scholarships, it tackles a longer term concern of the impending retirement of many current physicians and the decreasing number of students choosing to serve in primary care.

The plan also would help make health care more cost effective by reducing the reliance on emergency room visits in many communities.

The most successful effort will include a comprehensive strategy, but we believe this plan should be a part of it. And we are not alone. A number of health-care organizations and advocates have offered their feedback and support.

Former Congressman Dr. Joe Schwarz has long championed a more aggressive effort in this area. Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledged the impending shortage in his special message on health care. And states from Minnesota to Mississippi have successfully used scholarship and loan repayment programs to address their own needs.

Legislation was recently introduced inMichigan’s House of Representatives (HB 5770, HB 5771, HB 5772, HB 5773), and related bills are expected to be offered in the Senate soon. It is our hope that lawmakers, health-care professionals and local stakeholders can continue to work together diligently on securing the care and talented workforce every community deserves.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron FrenchClick here for details and submission guidelines.

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Thu, 06/28/2012 - 11:27am
These bills do not go far enough, but are a good start. Thank you Rep's Ananich and Foster.
Field Reichardt
Fri, 06/29/2012 - 2:12pm
Another idea would be to provide an incentive to Docs willing to work in publicly owned clinics in "under-served areas" - for every year they work, at a decent but not extreme salary, they would also get a year of their med school debt paid. It would do several things: 1/ make docs more sensitive to the real world, 2/ reduce the cost of med school debt to many, 3/ provide better services in areas with need. There may also be some advantage is providing some mal-practice relief to docs who do this (now waiting for the trial bar to drop bricks on my head)...