Commentary: Bipartisan effort aims to improve primary care access

By Rep. David Bentz and Rep. Bryan Shupe

Delaware is rapidly losing primary care doctors and approaching a crisis in access to care, which requires immediate attention from all health policy stakeholders.

Delaware, already ranked in the bottom half of the country in many public health statistics, has seen a significant reduction in the supply of primary care in the state, with the number of physicians decreasing from 80.3 per 100,000 residents in 2008 to just 71.4 in 2015.

Many physicians are retiring, leaving for states where healthcare is more affordable to practice or moving into concierge services during this period of uncertainty in the health care industry. This decrease continues at a time when the demand for primary care is on the rise, which will only exacerbate existing public health problems and continue to drive health care costs in the state.

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Rep. David Bentz

As a state, we must be attractive to medical students as they complete their residencies and transition into building practices that serve our communities. This is why we introduced HB 257, which helps us work alongside our private and public partners to address the shortage and enhance recruitment and retention of primary care practitioners in Delaware.

This important legislation would create the Health Care Provider Loan Repayment Program. Funding for this program would be shared by both public and private sectors, with grants to repay education loans contingent on an annual appropriation from the General Assembly. The money would be matched in an equal amount by Delaware’s health insurers.

Hospitals that apply for grants on behalf of their qualifying clinicians would be required to also match the grant on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Under the bill, we would seed the program with $1 million from the fiscal 2021 budget.

Rep. Bryan Shupe

Many of Delaware’s top competitors for primary care providers offer similar loan repayment programs (such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia), putting us at a disadvantage in our efforts to recruit qualified primary care practitioners to our state. Programs like these are being adopted because increasing access to primary care is not only beneficial to the families that these practitioners serve, but also to the overall system.

We know increased primary care usage drives down long-term healthcare costs across the board. Primary care physicians are our first line of defense in our healthcare system. Having close relationships with their patients, they can meet health challenges before they become overwhelming, chronic and expensive.

Programs like the Health Care Provider Loan Repayment Program that leverage state and private sector resources without raising taxes can be a critical part of our work to solve large challenges in the healthcare industry. A focus on fiscal responsibility and working alongside other public and private partners will help us provide quality, more responsive healthcare in our communities across Delaware.

David Bentz is a Democratic State Representative serving the 18th District, which includes the Bear, Newark, and New Castle areas. Bryan Shupe is a Republican State Representative serving the 36th District, which includes Milford.