Bill aims to attract, retain doctors locally

February 24, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

Bill would clarify students' religious rights

ANNAPOLIS -- Del. John P. Donoghue has sponsored a bill that would help doctors repay their student loans by charging patients an additional fee.

The legislation would require patients to be charged .001 times their bill -- or $1 per every $1,000. That money would go to a fund to help doctors repay loans they have accumulated during medical school, which average about $150,000, according to the Maryland Hospital Association. The association testified in favor of the bill, which was heard Tuesday by the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee.

No action was taken.

Donoghue, D-Washington, said doctors will be more likely to practice in Maryland if they are offered assistance with paying back their sizable loans. His bill would help offset physician shortages across the state, he said.


In Western Maryland, there is a shortage of surgeons, as well as physician shortages in primary care and hospital-based specialties.

Donoghue said the loan reimbursement bill was the result of a task force he co-chaired addressing physician shortages statewide. Rural areas, like Washington County, have increased shortages of primary-care physicians, dermatologists, psychologists and thoracic surgeons.

Donoghue said the physician shortage is due to issues regarding reimbursement for treatment, and the lack of help in paying off student loans. The reimbursement issue is addressed in a bill Donoghue also has filed.

Some who testified Tuesday said it is more costly to establish a primary-care practice, leading many to enter more lucrative fields.

Under the bill, physicians who agree to practice primary care or another specialty where there is a need would have a portion of their student loans repaid if they agree to work in a particular area in Maryland for at least two years.

Money to pay those loans would come from the fees assessed to patients. If those fees of $1 per every $1,000 billed were in place in 2007, $12 million would have been generated, according to testimony. There currently is a fund used to help doctors with their loans, but it has only about $200,000 currently available for physicians statewide.

John M. Colmers, Maryland Secretary for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, spoke Tuesday in support of the bill. Officials from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Maryland State Medical Society also spoke in favor of the bill.

James E. Lyons Sr., Maryland's Secretary of Higher Education, said Tuesday that he supports the bill, which would ultimately aid in preventive care measures by allowing more primary-care doctors to practice in the state.

"This is an investment we think in the long run would benefit patients overall," he said.

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