Monday, April 19, 2010

Restriction on hiring doctors hurts rural hospitals

The headline in today's Sacramento Bee is "Rural areas push to end ban on hiring doctors," and the story by Bobby Caina Calvan reports on the difficulties rural communities have in attracting adequate health care professionals. One of the challenges in California is a law that prohibits hospitals from hiring doctors directly. This means that physicians are reluctant to move to rural areas, where they are less likely to earn a sufficient income from private practice.

The story's dateline is Jackson, population 3,989, in Amador County (population 38,343), and Calvan relies heavily on the situation of Dr. Bob Hartmann, a local physician who is also Amador County's public health official.

"There's no guarantee of income," said Hartmann, 60, who makes house calls in a lime-colored Volkswagen Beetle. "Physicians in rural areas make significantly less money than doctors in the urban areas."

The county's only hospital, Sutter Amador in Jackson, has struggled to expand services because there aren't the necessary doctors, surgeons and other specialists around.

The hospital's chief executive officer would like to do more to attract physicians to the foothills, but California is one of five states that forbid private hospitals from directly hiring their own doctors.

The law may soon, change, however, as Calvan explains:

Pushed by the California Hospital Association, the Legislature is about to revive discussion on whether the law should be changed.

Assembly Bill 646, which would allow publicly run hospital districts to hire doctors, is before the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee.

Companion legislation, Assembly Bill 648, would establish a pilot program allowing rural hospitals to directly employ physicians. The measure is expected to be scheduled for a hearing soon.

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