The Herald Bulletin

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June 23, 2013

Indiana tangles with shortage of rural doctors

INDIANAPOLIS — Health care advocates in Indiana are looking at an improved training system for physicians and an expanded concept of what it means to see a doctor to help serve what's expected to be a crush of new patients seeking care starting next year.

Millions of people without health insurance nationwide are set to gain coverage in 2014 as part of the federal health care overhaul, commonly referred to as "Obamacare." As in many states, that will exacerbate problems in Indiana surrounding access to care in rural communities where is there is already a shortage of doctors and other health care providers.

"I think there's especially concern about the looming retirement of a lot of older physicians, and the expectation is because of that, and the expansion of health care, those factors will combine to make the existing shortage even more acute," said state Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, the chairman of the House Public Health Committee.

The state only recently determined the depth of the shortage. The passage of the health care law in 2010 exposed the lack of information in the state about availability of health care, and it took two years to compile a comprehensive report, said David Roos, executive director of the advocacy group Covering Kids and Families of Indiana.

Indiana has 3,951 primary care "clinicians," a catch-all description that includes physicians, physician's assistants and nurse practitioners, according to an August 2012 report written by researchers with the Indiana Center for Health Workforce Studies and Bowen Research Center at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

The goal for states is to have 100 primary care physicians available for every 100,000 residents. Researchers found Indiana only had 51 and the number drops precipitously in rural communities, said Dr. Richard Kiovsky, director of the Indiana Area Health Education Centers.

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