Washington state's primary care physician shortage

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | December 15, 2014
The primary care shortage in the U.S. has been a looming issue for a while now, but Washington is making it a goal to put an end to it in their state. Senator David Frockt introduced a bill on Friday that will allocate $8 million from 2015 to 2017 towards Washington's Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Fund, which helps medical students pay their student loans.

Medicaid expansion and Qualified Health Plans through the Health Benefit Exchange gave over 600,000 people access to health insurance in the state. "We must have an adequate workforce to meet this increased demand," Frockt said in a statement.

With the influx of patients, Washington will need an extra 1,695 primary care physicians by 2030 in order to maintain their current primary care utilization rates, according to a recent study conducted by the Robert Graham Center. They currently have 5,141 primary care physicians, so that would equate to a 32 percent increase.

"There must be health care professionals available to treat these patients, particularly in underserved areas," Dr. Brian Seppi, president of the Washington State Medical Association, said in a statement. "Student loan repayment is a proven way to encourage primary care providers starting out their careers to settle in these underserved areas."

In addition, WWAMI Center for Health Workforce Studies reports found that the physician workforce is steadily aging – two-thirds of those in rural areas are 55 or older – and about one in five primary care physicians are looking to retire in the near future.

In 2011 the program's funding was cut by 87 percent. The main provider groups in the state, including the Community Health Network of Washington, Washington Association of Community & Migrant Health Centers, Washington State Dental Association, Washington State Hospital Association, Washington State Medical Association, and Washington State Nurses Association are lobbying for Governor Jay Inslee and the legislature to provide more funding.

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