Lawmakers try to lure doctors to Wyoming

By Michelle Dynes
http://www.wyomingnews.com

Wyoming isn’t the only state struggling to recruit doctors.

But lawmakers hope an incentive package that includes moving expenses, two years worth of malpractice insurance premiums and a signing bonus of up to $30,000 will make the state a more attractive option for medical professionals.

Senate File 35 would create a grant program through the Wyoming Department of Health for recruitment, prioritizing assistance for underserved communities. The legislation also includes a loan repayment program for physicians and dentists.

Rep. Lori Millin, D-Cheyenne, said she worked on a similar bill to provide loan assistance last year, but while this legislation had a tool for retention there was nothing for recruitment.

“We realized we were losing physicians to other states,� she said. “All of Wyoming is medically underserved.�

Millin added that Rep. Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette, had to hire a doctor from out of state to cover his practice while he served in the Legislature last year.

Sen. Bob Fecht, R-Cheyenne, said another problem is that Wyoming has one of the highest malpractice insurance rates when some states pay a percentage of this cost.

“There is a tremendous shortage of physicians, both specialist and primary care, and it is statewide,� he said. “Earlier this year I attended a conference with about 15 other states. Physician recruitment was a problem for the legislative representatives of every one of those states.�

Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, said nationwide the demand for doctors exceeds the supply. Larger hospitals can offer attractive incentive packages but smaller practices struggle to remain competitive.

Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said there also are fewer doctors coming out of medical school coupled with an aging population. And Wyoming’s shortage is magnified by its isolation and the distance between towns.

“Several of our dentists have expressed concern to me about who is going to be there when our baby boomer dentists retire,� he said. “Many are at retirement age now. (Senate File 35) is an attempt to give communities some much-needed resources to go out into the marketplace and compete for those health-care professionals.�

Physicians who accept one of the incentive packages also must agree to spend at least two years in the community they were recruited to. Towns or hospitals that successfully attract a new physician can be reimbursed for their recruiting efforts up to $10,000. Physicians or dentists with outstanding educational loans can be reimbursed up to 100 percent under the legislation.

The bill also requests $890,000 from the general fund to get the grant program started.
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