Washington State Medical Association Responds to Senate Budget
Olympia, Wash. – Leaders in the Washington State Senate released a budget proposal today that attempts to fund education and make needed investments in health care without raising taxes. Senate leaders unveiled a $38 billion two-year state budget that requires no new revenue, and in addition to increasing funding for education, provides needed dollars to address future health care workforce needs, particularly in primary care.
“The WSMA is thankful that leaders in the Senate were able, through careful calculations, to address our future workforce needs without imposing additional taxes on independent practices,” remarked Dr. Brian Seppi, president of the state medical association.
The Senate budget proposal funds critical state programs that train primary care physicians and encourage physicians to practice in rural and underserved areas. Washington state is facing an estimated shortage of nearly 1,700 primary care physicians by 2030. Right now there are not enough physician training positions (residencies) in our state to meet the demand for care. That means many medical school graduates must leave the state to complete their residency training. The Senate budget includes funding for graduate medical education at $16.3 million—which will fund more training slots for medical students going into primary care. The Senate’s proposal also provides $9.4 million to replenish the Health Professional Student Loan Repayment Program, which provides incentives for physicians to practice in rural and underserved areas.
“We applaud the Senate’s recognition that investments in our health care workforce are desperately needed. Not only is our state growing, it’s growing older—and so too are physicians. Over two-thirds of physicians practicing in rural areas are over the age of 55. Not only do we need opportunities for physicians to train in our rural communities, we need to encourage younger physicians to practice in these areas. Provisions included in the Senate budget help us achieve this goal. The number one predictor of where a doctor will practice is where they complete their residency,” added Dr. Seppi.
Both House and Senate budgets provide substantial and necessary funding for improvements in the state’s mental/behavioral health care system. Yet absent from both the Senate and House budget proposals were funds needed to continue Medicaid reimbursement at Medicare levels, necessary to improve access for the 1.7 million patients currently on the state’s health care assistance program, including more than 750,000 children.
“Our organization is grateful that the Senate is addressing future physician workforce and patient needs without adding additional taxes,” said Jennifer Hanscom, CEO of the WSMA. “However, neither the Senate nor House budget address the critical needs of Medicaid patients today who are having trouble accessing care in their local communities.”
State financing has a crucial role in the functioning of its health care system, and not providing adequate funding for health care could have serious ramifications for all Washington residents, including those children we seek to educate.
“Having access to insurance does not ensure access to care. Without a commitment by the state to support physicians who care for Medicaid patients, the burden is shifted to physician practices, which must decide whether to subsidize patient care at an economic loss—putting their entire practice at financial risk—or limiting the number of Medicaid patients they treat,” said Dr. Seppi.
In a recent study of primary care practices, large clinics and health systems conducted by the WWAMI Center for Health Workforce Studies, about one-in-five primary care physicians—and 74 percent of small primary care practices—reported they would reduce or stop seeing current Medicaid patients if payments revert to pre-2013 levels.
The Washington State Medical Association’s vision is to make Washington the best place to practice medicine and to receive care. The WSMA represents physicians, physician assistants, residents and medical students throughout Washington state. For more information about the WSMA, please visit www.wsma.org.