Arizona’s doctor shortage harms health care, economy

Guest Opinion//May 2, 2019

Arizona’s doctor shortage harms health care, economy

Guest Opinion//May 2, 2019


Arizona’s doctor shortage isn’t just hurting our health. It hits our wallets, too

Anyone who has been or will be a patient should be concerned about Arizona’s severe shortage of doctors and nurses. They should also be concerned that the shortage may be limiting the state’s economic potential.

In most discussions about building a stronger Arizona economy, policymakers and economists discuss tax rates, economic development programs and regulations. But the provision of a quality health-care system is just as fundamental to economic growth.

Our concern is the current shortage of doctors and nurses across the state will eventually translate into slower economic growth. This would mean fewer new jobs being created in every county, lower levels of income for many, and a declining quality of life for residents.

How bad is Arizona’s doctor shortage?

Arizona is one of the fastest-growing states for overall population growth and at the same time, a leader in elderly population growth. This demographic, which brings retirement money to communities and buys second homes and cars and other things, will require quality health care services.

The state is also a leader in attracting new businesses and encouraging new ones to be formed. Many will locate to the bigger cities, but others will prefer a more rural lifestyle. These businesses and entrepreneurs examine a long list of community attributes, heath care quality among them, before growing roots.

The people in the trenches are seeing the same things that we are seeing as policy professionals. According to the University of Arizona Center for Rural Health, every county is experiencing a severe shortage of doctors and nurses, and increases in costs and decreases in quality.

That same policy brief indicates that Arizona ranks 44th nationally in primary care physicians at 77.9 per 100,000 population and meets just 41 percent of its primary care physician need.

How SB1354 addresses the shortage

The Arizona Legislature is considering Senate Bill 1354 to alleviate the state’s health care workforce shortage. The bill provides support for five programs — Graduate Medical Education, the University of Arizona Medical School, primary care provider loan repayment, medical student loan repayments, and nurse training. All of these programs will move the needle on the shortage.

Graduate Medical Education, commonly known as physician residencies, has not been state-funded in a decade, thus leaving matching federal funds on the table. Senate Bill 1354 will contribute $20 million, matched by approximately $47 million in federal funds — a total of $67 million would become available to the GME account.

We know the vast majority of doctors practice where they do their residency. The problem is that Arizona simply doesn’t have enough medical residencies. Only 42 percent of Arizona’s medical students remain in the state after graduation, as reported by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

But when they train in Arizona, they stay in Arizona. According to Dr. Bharat Magu, chief medical officer at Yuma Regional Medical Center, nearly all medical students who finish the hospital’s post-graduate training stay in-state, and 67 percent stay in Yuma.

We often need to be reminded how the smallest changes in our overall rate of growth, both in income and jobs, can have a dramatic impact on state and local finances.

This issue matters.

If passed, this initiative will improve the well-being, both economic and physical, of all Arizonans.

Sen. Heather Carter is vice chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Jim Rounds is an economist and president of Rounds Consulting Group, Inc.