State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, hopes to tackle the doctor shortage in the state, particularly in rural upstate communities, with a series of policy proposals he announced Friday.
The legislative package introduced by the state Senate deputy minority leader, developed in conjunction with Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-Marcy, proposes to bolster the benefits offered by the Doctors Across New York program, which helps bring physicians to underserved communities by offering training, help with repaying student debt and establishing or joining a practice, according to a news release from the senator’s office.
The series of bills calls for providing students at state-backed medical schools access to the Excelsior Scholarship. It also offers out-of-state students at those same schools who live near the state borders a decrease to their out-of-state tuition by two-thirds. The legislation also proposes to unlock the START-UP NY program, which eliminates taxes for new or growing businesses located on or near college campuses for 10 years, to physicians who are willing to open primary care offices in underserved areas.
Ms. Buttenschon will submit a similar collection of bills for Assembly review and potential adoption, according to the release.
Concerned practicing and retired medical professionals who wanted to help bring more doctors to the state approached Sen. Griffo seeking assistance, the senator said. The deputy senate minority leader said he sees a lack of primary care providers and specialists, such as orthopedic surgeons and dermatologists, in his own backyard, Rome and Oneida County.
“To me, this is an investment in the well-being of our citizens,” he said.
The joint policy effort between Sen. Griffo and Ms. Buttenschon also aims to allocate existing federal benefits to rural areas that cannot access them, thus helping grow their health care coverage.
Some rural communities cannot access certain aid as they may not qualify as underserved areas because they do not meet the criteria from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, according to the release. The lawmakers, therefore, are urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to direct the state Department of Health to establish its own shortage area, which may open opportunities for rural areas to receive assistance.
“This is a legislative problem that particularly challenges rural areas upstate,” he said.
Sen. Griffo and his office referenced the findings in a 2015 physician advocacy survey from the Healthcare Association of New York State when describing his effort.
The survey, which compiles responses from 103 hospitals and health systems, found that they struggle to recruit primary care physicians in particular due to medical school debt, lower salary offerings dissuading fewer residents from entering the primary care field, a lack of interest in locating to underserved areas and an aging workforce.
Sen. Griffo said school debt, insurance and the possibility of doctors having to work on call every weekend can dissuade residents from serving as doctors in small upstate communities. He said he hopes the proposals, which aim to help remedy those issues, will highlight the doctor shortage and convince lawmakers to work toward a solution.
“We will begin having discussions with our colleagues and seeing what their thoughts are,” he said.