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Measure seeks to entice doctors to rural areas

State lawmakers are moving to get more doctors into rural and medically underserved areas of the state.

A Senate panel voted Tuesday to expand an existing program that helps doctors repay their medical school debts if they agree to go where they are needed. SB 1194, proposed by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, now goes to the full Senate.

Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, introduced similar legislation in the House. That measure, HB 2495, is awaiting a hearing.

The proposal likely stands a good chance of becoming law despite the state’s financial situation.

That is because the expansion is structured so it would not require any additional state dollars. Kristen Boilini, lobbyist for the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, said the change permits the program to take private donations which she said will be offered.

She said the state needs another 442 full-time primary care physicians, 441 dentists and 204 behavioral health providers and psychiatrists.

That includes not just the rural areas of Arizona. She said while physicians are attracted to some urban areas, there are inner-city areas in both Pima and Maricopa counties where the number of medical providers falls short.

“Generally, they’re communities with high uninsured, underinsured folks,” Boilini said, with a high percentage of residents getting their coverage through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program.

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