The on-going doctor shortage that plagues the Central Valley region could move a step toward a solution with a renewed call to fund a medical school at the University of California Merced campus.

Assemblymember Adam C. Gray (D – Merced) recently introduced legislation to establish a medical school at the UC Merced campus as well as bills aimed at improving health outcomes in rural California.

AB 2202 would appropriate an unspecified amount of funding from the state’s general fund surplus to establish the University of California, Merced School of Medicine.

“Establishing a medical school at UC Merced to serve the Central Valley was part and parcel to the inception of the campus three decades ago,” said Gray. “I commend UC Merced’s inventive implementation of the 2020 plan and SJV PRIME program while receiving less state assistance than any UC campus before it. In a year when we expect a multibillion dollar surplus, now is the time for the state to invest in the creation of this critically needed medical school. The Central Valley is significantly disadvantaged when it comes to our shortage of health care professionals and infrastructure. Locating a medical school in the heart of the region is an obvious solution we should have implemented a long time ago.”

California is dealing with a primary care clinician shortage statewide that is only expected to grow with the passing years. An August 2017 report from the Healthforce Center at UCSF found that the demand in the state for primary care clinicians will increase by 12 to 17 percent in the next decade, while the supply of physicians will be decreasing.

“California faces a looming shortage of primary care clinicians in the coming decades,” said Healthforce Research Faculty Member Janet Coffman. “If we continue along our current path, more and more Californians will need to visit the emergency room for conditions like asthma, ear infections or flu because they lack a primary care provider.”

The shortage is particularly harder on rural areas, where it is harder to get physicians to relocate. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that an area have 60 to 80 primary care physicians per 100,000, but in the San Joaquin Valley the ratio was estimated at 39 per 100,000 back in 2015, according to the California Health Care Foundation.

Gray also introduced legislation seeking to increase payments to primary care doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients, AB 2203, and boost the number of hours intermittent health clinics can keep their doors open, AB 2204.

“The Legislature has patted itself on the back for expanding the number of people in the state with a health insurance card,” said Gray. “Unfortunately, an insurance card is no guarantee of access to a doctor. Nearly half of the northern San Joaquin Valley is now on Medi-Cal, yet our emergency rooms remain overloaded. Too many of us live in communities with zero hospitals and few doctors’ offices. Even the doctors who do serve our communities often cannot afford to treat Medi-Cal patients when they are only paid $18 for an office visit. That simply is not enough to keep the lights on, and we must value our Medi-Cal population more than that. To add insult to injury, we cap the number of hours certain health clinics are able to operate per week. I have run legislation in the past to raise the cap, and this year we will bring that cap up to 40 hours per week.”

Gray’s package of health bills will be referred to policy committees and set for public hearings in the coming weeks.