Lawmakers: Do more to lure rural doctors

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Two area state lawmakers are introducing legislation intended to attract more physicians upstate through expanding incentives regarding medical-school tuition and debt and through expanding state help with starting primary-care practices.

Sen. Joe Griffo, R-47, Rome, and Asssemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-119, Marcy, announced the initiative today in Utica.

They cited a report by the Healthcare Association of New York State that said hospitals, health systems and providers have faced significant trouble recruiting and retaining primary care physicians and specialists. Reasons included aging providers, medical school debt, fewer new doctors choosing family practice because of lower earnings, insurance challenges, and general wariness of practicing in under-served areas.

According to the lawmakers, their legislation would:

Increase benefits in the Improve the Doctors Across New York program, which helps train and place physicians in underserved communities.

Allow students in a state-supported medical school participate in the Excelsior Scholarship program, and to reduce the tuition for non-resident students living within a certain distance of the state border to two-thirds of what they would pay as out-of-state students. The bill puts the distance at 150 miles of the border.

Expand benefits in the Start-Up NY business incentives program to physicians establishing a primary-care office. Start-Up NY’s main benefit is new and expanding businesses can operate tax-free for 10 years on or near eligible university or college campuses. Current law specifically prohibits Start-Up benefits from going to medical and dental practices, but the relevant bill would add eligibility to those solely providing primary care.

The lawmakers also seek to have the state Health Department designate a shortage area for rural health clinics. This may help underserved communities that fall short of current federal criteria for doctor-recruitment aid.

“The Doctors Across New York program has been successful in attracting physicians to underserved areas throughout the state,” Griffo, the Senate deputy minority leader, said in a statement. “However, our state continues to experience doctor shortages in both urban and rural communities.”

“While the Doctors Across New York program has helped attract medical professionals to the state, we must do more to ensure upstate communities — both urban and rural — have access to affordable, high-quality health care,” Buttenschon said.

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