Bates backs Ashland OB/GYN care

By By DON JEPSEN
for the Mail Tribune
http://www.mailtribune.com

State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, a physician, plans to offer an amendment to a bill subsidizing medical malpractice premiums that would continue to cover primary care and OB/GYN physicians in Ashland.

This amendment and another that keeps Grants Pass doctors eligible for the subsidy program are currently being drafted. Bates will submit his amendments to Senate Bill 83 at a hearing at 3 p.m. Monday before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Ashland is threatened with the loss of subsidies because of new U.S. Census Bureau guidelines. Ashland’s classification as a rural area would disappear because of its proximity to Medford, Scott Ekblad, director of the state Office of Rural Health, said earlier.

The Bates proposal would let coverage for specialists such as plastic surgeons or dermatologists practicing in Ashland lapse. But it would require the state to continue paying 80 percent of malpractice premiums charged baby doctors and 60 percent for general practitioners who practice obstetrics. The program is scheduled to end in four years.

“Everyone thinks Ashland is a wealthy community,” said Bates. “But there are poor people living there also. It’s the middle class that is shrinking.”

Bates said Ashland’s hospital performs about 350 deliveries a year, primarily for low-income residents who often receive pre-natal care at La Clinica, a Medford nonprofit clinic for low-income residents.

For Grants Pass the problem is growth. Because a recent annexation pushed the population over 30,000, Grants Pass crossed the threshold from rural to urban and thus doctors face the loss of state help beginning in 2008.

Bates said Grants Pass deserves to remain in the program because it has a relatively small population with health care coverage compared to those without insurance or on Medicaid.

The malpractice subsidy was authorized by the 2003 Legislature to lure more physicians to rural areas. It is funded from worker’s compensation premiums and run by the SAIF Corporation. But the $40 million that was allocated will run out by 2011.

Only $19 million remains in the account. To stretch those dollars, SAIF plans a “glide path” racheting down support over the next four years.

A spokesman for SAIF said there were rumors an amendment was also circulating to provide additional funding, but he said he had not seen such a proposal as of Friday.

Bates said the next two legislatures will have an opportunity to forge solutions for rising malpractice insurance rates.

“This state has a medical malpractice issue that has not been dealt with,” he said.
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