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Kentucky lost more than 5% of physicians during COVID-19 pandemic

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(The Center Square) – Kentucky saw its physician workforce shrink by more than 5% during the COVID-19 pandemic, and state lawmakers are considering steps to stop that hemorrhaging.

Kentucky Medical Association Executive Vice President Patrick Padgett shared that data during an Interim Joint Committee on Health Services hearing in Frankfort. Citing data from the state’s Office of Rural Health, he said the state lost 590 physicians between 2019 and last year when 10,002 doctors were working in the state.

“We lost 590 physicians out of the state at a time that we needed more physicians in the state,” he said. “So that’s a big loss, and physicians not only treat patients and try to maintain their health and make them healthier and make them more productive, but they are an economic driver in the state.”

Losing that many doctors has an impact beyond the state’s residents having fewer options for medical care. According to Padgett, each medical doctor has an average economic impact of $1.9 million. So, the loss of nearly 600 doctors equates to a loss of $1.12 billion.

A KMA survey found more than two-thirds of the doctors polled are experiencing more stress than they did before the pandemic began. That includes 23% who say they’re having difficulty managing it to the point it may be impacting “their professional satisfaction.”

One concern Kentucky’s doctors want to address is reforms on prior authorizations, a practice used by insurance companies to determine if a drug or service is needed before it’s approved for that patient. More than 4-of-5 doctors surveyed said their patients’ care is delayed at least somewhat because of prior authorizations, and 61% said their biggest administrative challenge is dealing with PAs for medications.

State Sen. Karen Berg, a Louisville Democrat and doctor who is also an assistant professor at the University of Louisville, agreed reforms are needed and are keeping many new doctors from starting their practices here.

Kentucky’s healthcare staffing crisis also goes beyond losing doctors. The Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities and Kentucky Center for Assisted Living told the committee that while hospitals, assisted living facilities and ambulatory services gained workers during the pandemic, home health care and nursing homes lost workers. Nursing homes lost more than 3,600 employees or 13.6% of their workforce.

But those facilities need more help beyond staffing concerns. They told the committee that adjusting Medicaid costs starting next year will be crucial as more than half of the state’s nursing homes are in some type of fiscal distress.

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