JEFFERSON CITY — Doctors could soon be rewarded for working in rural areas.
The House Committee on Rural Community Development discussed a bill Thursday that is aimed at helping bridge the health care divide between rural and urban areas.
Currently, 52% of Missouri’s doctors live in St. Louis City, St. Louis County or Jackson County, bill sponsor Rep. Herman Morse, R-Dexter, said. Another 8% live in Boone County.
The bill would create a grant program for primary care physicians who agree to live and work in a rural county of less than 35,000 people. The program would pay $10,000 per year for a five-year agreement. Penalties would be imposed on doctors who do not fulfill the full five years.
“We need more primary care physicians in rural communities,” Morse said. He referenced his own medical history, where his physicians have repeatedly moved to larger communities.
Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, questioned whether $10,000 was enough of an incentive to convince people to move to rural areas.
“I have no idea,” Morse said. He said even if it only prevents a few doctors from moving away, it will have been worth it.
The bill gained bipartisan support.
“I’m a nurse by background, so I think this bill is great,” Rep. Patty Lewis, D-Kansas City, said. “Anything that brings health care to rural communities is a fantastic idea.”
Lewis questioned whether the bill could be expanded to include advanced nurse practitioners, as there is a significant shortage of primary care physicians in not just rural areas, but throughout the state. Those nurse practitioners could help fill that need. Morse said he had not considered that but would be open to the idea.
Rep. Barry Hovis, R-Whitewater suggested another change. Hovis pointed out how difficult it is to secure funding for programs through the legislative appropriations process and suggested it might be easier to pass incentives in the form of tax credits rather than grants. That would provide funding without needing state appropriations.
The Missouri Hospital Association and Missouri Farm Bureau both supported Morse’s bill.