October 1, 2014

Deal signs bill increasing rural health care providers

(Atlanta, GA) — Gov. Nathan Deal this week signed into law House Bill 998, legislation that will expand the Georgia Medical Student Scholarship program and increase the number of practice opportunities for health care providers in rural areas.

“Georgia’s Medical Student Scholarship program allows for us to retain our best and brightest medical doctors while also increasing access to quality medical care in Georgia’s most rural areas,” Deal said.

“No medical student educated in Georgia should find themselves without job opportunities in their home state after graduation. It’s through programs like this that we improve the quality of life in rural communities, create much-needed jobs and set the foundation for further growth in our primary and specialized health care systems.”

This new law changes the way the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce, in collaboration with the Departments of Community Health and Public Health, classifies “physician underserved rural areas,” a key component to the scholarship requirements.

This reform allows for greater flexibility with service obligations in rural Georgia for those students pursuing medical degrees in certain critical need specialties.

The service repayable scholarship provides up to $20,000 per year to qualified Georgia residents to help pay the cost of medical school, in return for a contractual obligation to practice medicine in board-approved rural and underserved areas.

This legislation allows for a scholarship recipient who completes a Graduate Medical Education program in certain primary care and other critical need specialties to fulfill their obligation in a regional area of Georgia composed of rural counties where an unmet need of those specialties exists.

The regional areas will be determined by the Georgia Board of Physician Workforce and approved by the Commissioners of the Departments of Community Health and Public Health.

“With the many changes to healthcare since the beginning of the scholarship program in 1952, scholarship recipients entering certain primary care and other critical need specialties are finding it harder to establish a practice in the rural counties of Georgia as is currently required by the law governing the program,” said Cherri Tucker, executive director of the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce. “We commend Governor Deal for his commitment to increasing access to health care in rural underserved areas of Georgia.”

Deal also signed today SB 213, updating the Flint River Drought Protection Act to further water conservation efforts in the area. The legislation will allow for greater efficiency for farm irrigation systems and clarifies the Environmental Protection Division’s role in managing periods of prolonged drought, particularly concerning the suspension of water withdrawals around flows for certain threatened and endangered species.

“It has always been one of my top priorities to ensure that the future of Georgia’s water supply is never handicapped by shortage or uncertainty,” Deal said.

“This legislation will enable the Environmental Protection Division to react in a common sense manner during a drought, which will protect southwest Georgia farmers from lawsuits, conserve our natural resources and keep our farms running efficiently.”

Deal also signed the following bills:

  • SB 273, which requires the Department of Public Health to establish a Maternal Mortality Review Committee charged with reviewing the causes of maternal deaths in Georgia and developing strategies so that future deaths may be prevented. The committee will also lead the department’s efforts in communicating research findings and relevant information to the health care community and general public.

  • SB 349, legislation that reinforces the responsibilities of the Community Service Boards that serve as Georgia’s public safety net for individuals with behavioral health and developmental disability needs.

  • HB 128, which creates a new “Georgia Downtown Renaissance Fund” to help cities with planning and revitalization of downtown areas through technical assistance and low interest loans.

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