The Texas Association of Community Health Centers (TACHC) today presented its Legislative Champion Award to Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa for his work during the 81st Texas Legislature to bring more doctors to South Texas and the Coastal Bend.
During an event hosted by the Community Action Corporation of South Texas in Alice, Sen. Hinojosa’s leadership and commitment in the passage of physician loan repayment legislation were highlighted and applauded. The legislation takes a major step toward addressing a critical physician shortage across the state, particularly in rural and border areas of the state. Most counties in the Coastal Bend and South Texas are designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas.
“Thanks to the leadership of Sen. Hinojosa, as many as 225 primary care physicians per year will be providing health care in underserved areas of Texas in the years ahead,” said TACHC Executive Director José E. Camacho. “Access to health care in both urban and rural areas remains critical as our population grows. Sen. Hinojosa’s efforts and all those who supported the physician loan repayment legislation help assure healthcare will be available for those who need it.”
Sen. Hinojosa authored the senate version of the legislation and carried the final bill (HB 2154) through the senate. He was instrumental in the overwhelming 29-2 vote in the senate to pass the physician loan repayment program. The program will be available to primary care physicians who agree to practice in underserved areas of the state and will assist in paying off student loans amassed during medical school training. Medical school graduates carry an average debt as high as $160,000 in student loans.
“New doctors coming out of medical schools now have an incentive to practice primary care in South Texas and other areas of great need,” said Hinojosa. “It was a privilege to work with my colleagues on a bill that will have such a positive impact for health care access.”
Through Hinojosa’s invaluable assistance, the physician loan repayment proposal made it through an extremely challenging legislative session. In June, Governor Rick Perry formally signed the physician loan repayment bill into law. The legislation becomes effective Sept. 1, 2009.
“House Bill 2154 opens up a window of opportunity to allow highly qualified professionals to more readily practice in medically underserved areas,” said Diana Franco Bill, Ph.D., Director of Health Programs for the Community Action Corporation of South Texas. “This program will give us an excellent recruiting tool to keep our health care delivery sites in Jim Wells, Brooks, Bee, Duval, Kleberg and San Patricio counties fully staffed with physicians to serve the community.”
More than half of Texas counties are in need of primary care physicians. In 2008, 26 Texas counties had no primary care physician. More than 110 Texas counties — rural and urban — have been designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas, meaning those counties do not meet a minimum national threshold of one physician for every 3,500 people.
“As we talk about expanding healthcare in our country, it’s critical we have physicians in place to meet the demand,” said Camacho. “Work in this session by Sen. Hinojosa and others puts Texas in better position to meet the needs of the future.”
The health centers operated by Community Action Corporation of South Texas are among many Federally Qualified Health Centers throughout Texas expected to attract future physicians thanks to the loan repayment incentive.
For more information on House Bill 2154 (including interactive features, video interviews, audio podcasts from healthcare professionals across Texas), visit www.HealthAccessForTexas.org.
The Texas Association of Community Health Centers is a private, non-profit membership association that represents safety-net health care providers in Texas. Association members include Community and Migrant Health Centers, Health Care for the Homeless Grantees, Public Housing Primary Care Grantees, Ryan White HIV/AIDS Grantees, Health Center Networks and other providers who strive to meet the health care needs of the uninsured and underserved. TACHC serves as the primary care association for the state of Texas.