Florida needs to expand access to healthcare in underserved areas, and the number of practicing clinicians in those areas, according to a new report.
The Florida Council of 100, a 62-year-old nonpartisan group of business/civic/academic leaders, recently released its A Healthier Florida report, which was developed over the past two years. It states that Florida spends more than $36 billion annually on Medicaid services, and over 7.5 million Floridians live in areas with a shortage of primary care providers. This leads to a lack of critical preventative care, and an over-reliance on expensive emergency room treatment, it states.
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The report found that more than one in three Floridians live in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Identifying HPSAs is a nationally recognized way of identifying underserved areas across the country. HPSA scores range from 0-25, and take population-to-provider ratios, the percentage of population below 100% of the federal poverty level, the infant health index, and travel time to the nearest source of care outside the HPSA designation area into account.
Bradford County and North Jacksonville had the highest HPSA scores at 21 apiece. Hamilton and Taylor counties both registered HPSA scores of 20.
The council held numerous interviews with community health centers, national and state associations, clinician organizations, hospital systems, experts, government officials, and employers while preparing the report. It includes several recommendations for increasing access to primary care.
The report recommends expanding the number of clinicians in underserved areas by:
- Increasing and optimizing funding for the Florida Reimbursement Assistance for Medical Education (FRAME) portal, the state’s new loan repayment program
- Increasing payment caps on FRAME
- Enabling private and corporate donations for clinician loan repayment
- Starting a state-level campaign to increase future primary care clinicians’ awareness of benefits that come with working in Florida’s underserved areas
- Creating a housing incentive targeted to clinicians willing to work in underserved areas
- Increasing the number of primary care residency seats in Florida
- Increasing the number of Teaching Health Center residency seats
- Creating a state program that helps community health centers cover the cost of mentoring the next generation of clinicians
- Making nurse practitioners and physician assistants eligible for the Areas of Critical Need Program
The report also recommends improving the ease of access to care in underserved areas by providing funding for capital projects, providing incentives for those willing to lease or donate land or buildings to community health centers at a reduced rate, maintaining the prioritization of underserved areas in the Broadband Opportunity Program, and allowing audio-only telehealth to improve the quality and cost of care.
Increasing the awareness of cost-effective healthcare in underserved areas is another recommendation. That can be done by creating a public campaign to increase patient awareness of community health centers, and providing funding for community health workers to increase connections to a primary care provider and reducing unnecessary emergency room visits, according to the report.
The report also recommends attracting and retaining more global medical professionals.