Texas lawmaker (and doctor) wants to study state’s physician shortage

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — If you’ve noticed a tougher time getting on your doctor’s schedule, you’re not alone. A bill up for debate in the Texas House would initiate a study on the shortage of doctors in the state.

State Rep. JD Sheffield, a family doctor, authored House Bill 4003.

“What we want to find out is where the shortages are most acutely,” the Republican, who represents Gatesville, said.

Sheffield wants the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to look at solutions to what he describes as a lack of primary care physicians in the state. The study would analyze incentives for graduate medical students and address the feasibility of funding for residencies and primary care positions in remote areas.

“There is more money in the specialties than in primary care, and for the training institutions there is more money in training the specialties and sub-specialties than training primary care,” Sheffield said. “So when you have the big tertiary hospitals, that’s their emphasis. We have gotten away from emphasis in primary care.”

In response to the proposed legislation, a spokesperson for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board said the body does not advocate for or against a bill but said it was “supportive of educating and training more primary care physicians for Texas.”

“We believe the graduate medical education (GME) expansion that was initiated in 2014 and the physician loan repayment program are examples of how Texas supports physician education and training,” spokesperson Kelly Carper Polden said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

A 2018 report from the Texas Department of State Health Services estimates: “The shortage of primary care physicians in Texas will grow from 2,002 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in 2017 to 3,375 in 2030, an increase of 67 percent.”

Dr. Thomas Kim has worked 15 years in psychiatry and internal medicine. 

“Most people after finishing the 26th grade as I have, choose to live in a fairly metropolitan urban environment like Austin, New York, San Francisco, you name it,” Kim said.

The Austin-based doctor uses telemedicine to reach patients outside of Central Texas.

“One of the reasons why I devoted my professional career for telehealth is this amazing efficiency and power that we have to bring providers like me to places that really need it,” Kim explained.

As more Texans turn to telemedicine, another bill would allow more kids access to services. Lawmakers are also slated to debate House Bill 1063 this week, which would expand Medicaid coverage for certain pediatric patients.

“We’re just taking a very small step to include a population we know will benefit and we’ll be looking at what we can do in the future as technology progresses and data comes back and we can analyze it,” Rep Four Price, R-Amarillo, said. Price authored HB 1063.

Right now, Medicaid covers telemedicine for a handful of scenarios, mostly for adults. Price said his legislation targets care for kids who have had organ failure, an organ transplant, or who are on a ventilator.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox,” Price, who has advocated for better medical access for rural patients, explained.

Dr. Kim said attempts to expand Medicaid in the Lone Star State often come with “political radioactivity,” but are conversations worth having for some of Texas’ most vulnerable people.

“Investment in telehealth is to me an obvious and potentially incredibly valuable solution towards patient populations that is not only in need but it is incredibly expensive,” Kim added. “Our goals are to improve quality, certainly but also to reduce cost. That’s two of the basic value propositions of telehealth.”

If they pass the House, both pieces of legislation must get approval from the Senate, before heading to the Governor’s desk for a signature.

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