Friday, February 28, 2020

House passes bill to incentivize rural doctors

House bill to increase doctors in rural areas includes tribal component

OKLAHOMA CITY – The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday to address doctor shortages in rural areas.

House Bill 3823, by House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, authorizes a $25,000 tax credit for doctors who move to a rural community to practice. It passed 84-3 and heads to the Senate.

Doctors who are new to the rural area and establish their primary residence there would be eligible for the credit. The bill defines rural communities as any municipality with a population of less than 25,000 that is at least 25 miles from the nearest municipality with a population greater than 25,000.

The bill also applies to doctors who live within the boundaries of a tribal jurisdiction and are employed by a tribally owned or operated health facility or federal Indian Health Service facility.

“It will take a multifaceted approach to address rural Oklahoma’s doctor shortage, and tribal health care services are an important part of that solution,” said McCall, whose district contains parts of the Chickasaw Nation and Choctaw Nation, both of which operate several health care facilities within their jurisdictions.

The bill was heard in the House on Cherokee Nation Day at the Capitol and is supported by the Cherokee Nation and other tribal nations offering health care services.

“Speaker McCall’s bill is the best thing to happen in Cherokee Nation’s effort to recruit the best and brightest doctors and to keep them in rural Oklahoma,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “It’s something we, at the Cherokee Nation, struggle with, but it’s not just our tribe, it’s something our region and the entire state struggles with. This bill is creating an incentive for physicians to practice in rural Oklahoma, and we know once they get there, they will stay.”

The bill would limit the exemption only to doctors who graduated from a medical or osteopathic school in Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma ranks near the bottom of states for access to primary care in rural areas, and the majority of those primary care physicians we do have in rural Oklahoma are closing in on retirement,” McCall said. “We have to find ways to encourage providers to move into and practice in rural communities. This would allow those doctors to take that money they saved and invest it in their practices, to pay student loans and to invest in the local community.”

A doctor could claim the credit for up to five years. The credit would end once a total of $1 million was claimed statewide. McCall said the bill is essentially a pilot program, and he would seek to expand the credit if it encourages doctors to relocate to rural parts of the state.

McCall introduced a similar measure last session, House Bill 2511, which passed out of the House by a vote of 98-2 before stalling in the Senate.

“There is strong support for this proposal. We hope to see it through to the finish line this session, along with several other health care improvement measures,” McCall said.


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