Assembly Health Committee Votes for More Primary Care Residency Slots

The Assembly Committee on Health yesterday passed a bill that tries to address the shortage of primary care physicians in California by offering more residency slots for training physicians in underserved areas of the state.

AB 2458 by Assembly member Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) would add approximately 300 new spaces for resident physicians who have just graduated from medical school and earned their M.D. degree, but still need to complete three years of primary care residency training.

“We have a shortage of primary care physicians in 74% of our counties,” Bonilla said. “In order to train physicians, we need more residency slots.”

Many graduates from California medical schools want to stay in the state to practice but are unable to because they have to go to other states for their residency, Bonilla said.

“We want to keep them here,” she said. “Studies have shown that where you perform your residency is where you’ll settle down and stay.”

The big issue with the Bonilla bill is the price tag: $25 million in general fund dollars for one year, and another $2.8 million every year for three years from the California Health Data and Planning Fund.

“I know there’s a cost and I know it’s expensive,” said Assembly committee member Marie Waldron (R-Escondido). “But I think it’s really important.”

The shortage of primary care physicians in California is expected to worsen, Bonilla said, as many physicians in the state are nearing retirement. That problem will be exacerbated by increased demand from approximately 3.1 million Californians who recently enrolled in coverage through the exchange and Medi-Cal.     

“The need to develop the [primary care physician] pipeline is pretty obvious to everyone,” said Jeremy Fish, a family physician from Contra Costa County. “These kinds of training programs are in the community, they could be in your community.”

“Those residents are doctors, and they do a tremendous job,” Bonilla said.  

The bill passed the health committee on a 19-0 vote and now heads to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.

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