Senator's plan tackles E. Wash. physician shortage

By:  Annie Bishop
Source: KXLY


A dwindling number of primary care physicians could make finding a doctor in Eastern Washington more difficult; but a new health care law promises to counter the deficit.

U.S. Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, who spoke at the Riverpoint Campus in Spokane on Saturday Morning, estimates that by 2025, our region will have a shortage of 640 primary care physicians.  "You can have a job and you can have insurance, but if you don't have access to a doctor, you don't have health care," said Senator Cantwell.

She helped draft provisions under the new health care law to attract more primary care doctors to Eastern Washington."We need to make sure that we are training the new medical students that are here today so that they can continue to serve in this region," said Cantwell.  As of April 2010, there were only 100 medical residency slots available in Spokane. Compare that figure to the nearly 1,650 available in Western Washington.  Cantwell believes that medical students who train in the Inland Northwest are more likely to stay here for work.  The foundation of the deal involves attracting a four-year medical school to Spokane by adding more residencies. Under the new law, primary care doctors will get a 10-percent bonus over five years starting in 2011. Primary care doctors typically make half, if not less than half of the salary a specialist makes.  With medical students graduating with loans exceeding $100,000, becoming specialists is sometimes their only option to pay the bills.  "Primary care is alluring in a sense that you really get to be a part of the community," said Daniel Meza, a first year medical student at the University of Washington. "There are many things working against one going into primary care, most of all -- it's the money." "It is critical that we take action now to prevent such a severe shortage and have a sufficient amount of primary care doctors that can coordinate care, lower cost, and provide better care for patients," said Cantwell.