It’s Just a Legislative Letter But the Content Is Concerning

Among the measures approved August 22 as the Legislature hurries to complete its work before it adjourns for 2011 on September 9 was a resolution encouraging President Obama and Congress to keep sending federal dollars to “increase the supply of physicians in California.”

In particular the resolution, which has no force of law, seeks to improve access to care for “Californians in rural areas and members of underrepresented ethnic groups.”

Doing that requires more doctors.

It’s unlikely this glorified letter — AJR 13 by freshman Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, a Southgate Democrat — will goad the federal government into doubling funds currently earmarked for the Golden State or developing a comprehensive strategy to increase the number of new doctors, particularly primary care physicians.

Assemblyman Ricardo Lara

Despite a dire recitation of the state’s doctor shortage, the resolution praises the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care for attempting to ameliorate that growing problem.

To make its point, the resolution contains some illuminating – and disturbing – statistics, many of them from the California Medical Association:

Of California’s 58 counties, 42 fall below the Council on Graduate Medical Education’s recommendations for minimum number of primary care doctors.

Of the 42 counties, 16 have a Latino population that exceeds 30 percent.

Of the rural counties with the lowest number of primary care doctors, three have a Latino population over 50 percent, the resolution says.

Latinos, African Americans, Samoans, Cambodians, Hmong, and Laotians are underrepresented in California’s medical workforce.

Latinos represent over one-third of the state’s population but only 5 percent of the state’s doctors.

The majority of the state’s ethnic communities enjoy a ratio of 361 physicians per 100,000 residents but African American communities have only 178 physicians per 100,000 residents and Latino communities have only 56 physicians per 100,000 residents.

While the state’s population has grown 20 percent over the last 15 years, the number of medical school graduates has stayed flat.

One reason is the ever-increasing amount of debt incurred from attending medical school.

Right now, the average medical school graduate is $150,000 in debt. By 2033, that could be as high as $750,000.

It’s not as though no one wants to become doctors. In 2009, there were over 45,500 applications for 1,084 slots in California’s eight medical schools.

The resolution’s point is that this situation will worsen because of the federal health care changes taking effect in 2014.

While the resolution doesn’t say this, in 2014 another 2 million Californians will become eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for the poor, which already serves 7 million patients.

The federal expansion of health insurance coverage also means nearly 4.7 million who were either uninsured or partly insured in 2009 will qualify for coverage.




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