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Coverage, Access and Quality | Texas, Florida Facing Physician Shortages; Hispanics Largely Affected

Texas will need an additional 40,000 doctors by 2025 to keep up with a growing population, particularly among Hispanics, the San Antonio Express-News reports. About 20,000 of the 37,000 doctors currently practicing in Texas will have retired or left their practices over the next 17 years, Karl Eschbach, state demographer and director of the Institute of Demographic and Socioeconomic Research, said Thursday at the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Third Annual Healthcare Summit.

Access to care is a particularly “dire” issue for Hispanics, who have limited access to physicians because they are mostly employed by small businesses and are uninsured, the Express-News reports. Hispanics make up the largest group of uninsured people in Texas border cities. About 66% of Hispanic workers are employed by companies that provide employer-sponsored health insurance, Roland Angel, professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin, said. In comparison, more than 80% of blacks and whites have employer-sponsored health insurance (Poling, San Antonio Express-News, 11/14).

As Central Florida faces a physician shortage, some hospitals are recruiting physicians directly from Puerto Rico “because Puerto Rican doctors know Spanish” and “they are a good cultural fit for Metro Orlando,” which has a large Hispanic population, the Orlando Sentinel reports. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, an estimated 455,592 Hispanics live in the area.

Jorge Lopez — president of Florida Emergency Physicians, who recruits physicians for the Florida Hospital System — has traveled many times to Puerto Rico to recruit physicians. He said, “What we try to do is identify those who have already decided to leave. And when we go, we’re lucky if we can recruit one or two because there are so many other hospitals competing for them.” He added, “They are very competent doctors with fantastic hands-on experience. They are American citizens and bilingual. It’s one of our favorite places to recruit”

The American Association of Family Physicians reports that Florida must increase its physician population by 63% over the next 15 years in order to meet demands of a growing number of aging baby boomers. In addition, 40% of the state’s current physician population are age 55 or older and will reach retirement age at a time when fewer medical students are choosing to practice primary care medicine, according to the Sentinel. Other medical specialties also are facing shortages and fewer U.S. students are graduating from medical school.

Experts estimate that the nationwide physician shortage could be 200,000 by 2010; at the same time, the patient population is expected to increase by 24%. Puerto Rico is facing its own physician shortage. The island also does not have enough hospitals to meet demand and other facilities are in poor physical condition. Coupled with undesirable socioeconomic conditions, low wages and few to no benefits, many physicians are willing to leave, according to the Sentinel (Rivera-Lyles, Orlando Sentinel, 11/16).

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