Medical group to press agenda with legislators

By Laura Ungar
The Courier-Journal

The Kentucky Medical Association unveiled plans yesterday to work with legislators to ease the state’s doctor shortage and widen access to health care.

A study last year by the Kentucky Institute of Medicine showed the state needs almost 2,300 doctors to meet national standards.

“We’ve recognized for years that we’ve got a problem in Kentucky, and the Institute of Medicine study confirmed what we were saying,” said Dr. Preston Nunnelley, chairman of the legislative committee of the association representing the state’s physicians.

“Everything in this package increases the access to health care and the quality of health care for our citizens.”

The plan, called the Patient Physician Partnership, is designed to ease health-insurance burdens on families and doctors, increase support for Kentucky medical schools and rural residency programs, support medical liability reform, increase Medicare and Medicaid funding for physician care and “resist allied health providers’ efforts to practice medicine.”

Officials pointed to proposed legislation that would address some of their concerns.

Rep. Bob DeWeese, a Louisville Republican and physician, has indicated that legislators plan to introduce a bill to increase access to health care by, among other things, allowing parents to keep dependent children 25 and younger on their health-insurance policies and require insurers to justify rates based on reasonable standards and assurances that money is devoted to patient care.

Nunnelley said: “We have to get more people on insurance. We have a lot of patients who get care in the emergency departments, and that’s not the place to get preventive care.”

To help medical schools and residency programs, the medical association supports loan forgiveness or grants for medical students who agree to practice in Kentucky, a Rural Kentucky Scholarship Fund for those wishing to attend medical school and practice in needy areas of the state, and grants for local communities to retain and recruit physicians.

Marshall E. White III, director of public and governmental relations for the medical association, said bills concerning loan forgiveness and easing health-insurance burdens are expected to be introduced in the General Assembly this week.

On the controversial issue of medical liability, the association proposes allowing voters to decide whether the state should adopt reforms reducing the number of “frivolous” lawsuits.

Officials said a current medical malpractice reform bill — House Bill 8, which includes a long list of provisions, such as restricting premiums on doctors who deliver babies — doesn’t go far enough. Last year, a proposal calling for a public vote on an amendment to the state constitution regarding medical malpractice died in committee.

Nunnelley said he believes much of the medical association’s legislative agenda will be successful despite the state’s budget troubles, especially since most would not require state funding. The most vulnerable proposals, he said, are the ones involving loan forgiveness, grants and scholarships.

“The problem we’re going to have is increasing our supply of physicians,” he said. But on the overall slate of proposals, he said, “I’m optimistic a lot of it’s gonna pass.”
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