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Mississippi’s Doctors Support 25,000 Jobs in the State

By Sandra Knispel | Published 27 Mar 2011 04:31pm | comments
Dr. Bill Jones (right) examines his patient Dot Connell who's complaining of strong headaches.

Doctors are an important economic factor nationwide, and Mississippi is no exception. But as MPB’s Sandra Knispel reports, it’s no longer good enough to just cure patients – physicians also have to demonstrate their economic usefulness…if they want lawmakers to listen.

“To the tune of nearly 25,000 jobs and $5 billion in sales revenue, office-based physicians in Mississippi are making a difference not only in their patients’ health but in the state’s bottom line," said Dr. Tim Alford, a family physician in Kosciusko.

He’s also the president of the Mississippi State Medical Association. It’s his job to make sure lawmakers appreciate the importance of attracting and retaining doctors in our chronically underserved state. But legislative lip service alone won’t do; Alford and his association want real policies that work. A good example, Dr. Alford said, is the tort reform that came eight years ago.

“Mississippi has one of the best tort reform laws in the country, comparable to California and Texas," Alford said. "And as a consequence we’ve seen a steady rollback in insurance premiums over the past four years. In fact, a 48 percent rollback, which puts insurance premiums for physicians about where they ought to be.”

While several programs to increase the number of doctors, especially in Mississippi’s rural areas, are either under political discussion or already in the pipeline, it’s too early to measure progress with hard data. Speaking at a press conference in Greenwood on Friday, Alford made a convincing case that doctors provide the proverbial “shot in the arm” to Mississippi’s state and local economies.

“For example here where we’re standing in Leflore County, there are over 40 physicians in this community. And this study indicates that these 40 physicians create about 250 jobs and about 28 million [dollars] in employee wages.”

One of them is Dr. Bill Jones, a Greenwood family practitioner.

Dr. Jones is the sole physician in his office and says attracting new, young doctors to the region remains difficult.

“The Delta is a hard place to recruit to. The economics of the Delta and the reimbursement for physicians in the Delta is a very unique situation compared to payer mixed places where the industry pays. We’re highly government-paid physicians in the Delta: Medicaid and Medicare being the payers. And often their reimbursement is lower.”

Yet the region remains the nation’s hotspot that needs doctors more than any other area. Again Dr. Jones.

“Mississippi as you know is the fattest state in the fattest nation in the world and obesity is the mainstay of a multitude of illnesses, of chronic illnesses: diabetes and hypertension, hypolipidemia being the ones that feed off that primarily and we have plenty of that. The Delta of Mississippi is pretty much the epicenter of all that for Mississippi."

Even outside the Delta, in Vicksburg, west of Jackson, pediatrician Dr. Geri Weiland, says finding a new partner can be tricky.

“You can always find someone. But to find someone that’s going to practice good medicine, especially good pediatrics is difficult, because they can stay in a bigger city. And Vicksburg, even it’s a fairly good size – it is a small town. And it is difficult to get someone to leave Jackson, or leave the Gulf Coast, or leave New Orleans or leave Memphis, where all the training programs are, and come to a small town.

With the price tag for medical school so high that the average young doctor emerges with a debt burden of about 150,000 dollars it’s no wonder her first priority is to find a job that helps pay down student debt. Unless financial incentives can lure young doctors into rural areas, large swaths of Mississippi will continue to remain critically underserved.

Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Greenwood. 

Images

Dr. Bill Jones (right) examines his patient Dot Connell who's complaining of strong headaches.


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