Most of the health care reform expansion effort has focused on the logistics of adding coverage for up to 3 million more Californians, but that's just the start, according to Senate member Michael Rubio (D-Shafter). Those millions of health insurance cards won't be worth their weight in plastic if you don't make sure the state has the providers to take care of all of those people, he said.
"Even if we resolve the issue of health insurance," Rubio said, "health access still is a significant issue."
Rubio spoke on the Senate floor last week on behalf of his bill to expand the number of residency slots in California, a plan with the potential to significantly increase the number of providers in the state, he said. Setting up the infrastructure to accept private contributions for residency expansion creates an opportunity to add providers in California without using any more general fund dollars, Rubio said.
"SB 1416 will establish a fund for private individuals to be able to invest in the program, to cause residency slots to be increased in the state of California," Rubio said.
The idea is a simple one, said Callie Langton, health care workforce policy expert at the California Academy of Family Physicians.
"Our intent is to get voluntary contributions from health plans, and the state would provide the vehicle for that fund," Langton said. She pointed out that Kaiser already funds residency slots, and since health plans receive a fiscal benefit from training physicians, they would likely see the benefit of financially supporting residencies.
"Enough of them recognize that building their workforce is crucial to their success," Langton said. "It's a win-win for everybody."
Langton said that filling new residency slots would not be a problem in the state. "That's our bottleneck in California right now," she said. "We have so many students who want to be here, and right now we just don't have the slots. The demand is definitely there."
The voluntary fund likely would focus on primary care residency programs in underserved areas where demand for providers is highest, Langton said.
The Senate approved SB 1416 on a 38-0 vote. It now heads to the Assembly.