2009-06-25 / General Stories

Legislation Expected to Bring Up to 900 New Doctors to Rural, Border and Urban Areas

Governor Rick Perry has signed House Bill 2154 into law, historic legislation that strengthens the state's Physician Education Loan Repayment Program and improves incentives to bring up to 900 new doctors into medically underserved areas of Texas.

In addition to addressing the physician shortage statewide, the revenue generated by HB 2154 also provides the state with the opportunity to cut the franchise tax for at least 40,000 small businesses in Texas. By providing funding for both of those measures, the legislation emerged as one of the centerpiece bills of the 2009 legislative session. HB 2154 was authored by Houston State Rep. Al Edwards and the Senate sponsor was Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen.

"Physicians and health centers consider House Bill 2154 to be one of the most significant pieces of legislation to pass in decades because of its potential to bring basic medical care to millions of Texans in the inner cities and border and rural areas of our state," said Tom Banning, chief executive officer of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians (TAFP). "We are grateful to Governor Perry for signing this vital measure into law. And we appreciate the tireless work of state Rep. Al Edwards, Sen. Hinojosa and all our champions that have improved access to health care."

Rep. Al Edwards, Reps. Warren Chisum, Sylvester Turner and Veronica Gonzales also played instrumental roles in the passage of HB 2154 by submitting critical amendments to the legislation.

HB 2154 will fund a loan repayment program for doctors who practice in medically underserved areas across Texas. The repayment program will attract more than 225 physicians annually to the state's Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), including many in urban centers.

"The legislation was carefully crafted to solve a very real problem in Texas," said Texas Association of Community Health Centers (TACHC) Executive Director Jose Camacho. "This is an incredibly important measure, and our health centers throughout Texas are deeply indebted to all the legislative supporters of the bill for their outstanding work on behalf of the people of this state."

"Governor Perry's signature on this bill means a great deal to all Texans," Camacho added. "Our centers desperately need and are counting on this legislation to provide us with primary care physicians to serve in our centers, located in Health Professional Shortage Areas. The impact of this legislation will be seen from our border and rural communities to our urban core."

The Texas House approved the measure by an overwhelming 122- 21, after the Senate had approved it on a 29-2 vote.

"Within four years, Texas will have 900 new physicians serving communities in need," Banning said. "Texas established the nation's first physician loan repayment program and will once again serve as a national model for recruiting and retaining physicians to serve in our medically underserved communities."

HB 2154 revamps the Texas Physician Education Loan Repayment Program that was first established in 1985. Currently, the state forgives up to $45,000 of a medical graduate's loans for practicing in a shortage area. However, most physicians graduate with more than $160,000 in school loans.

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