A bill requiring Washington to join an interstate compact offering streamlined physician licenses is well on its way to becoming law. As of Wednesday, April 6, HB 1337 has cleared both the state Senate and House. During executive session of the bill on the Senate floor this week, lawmakers supporting the measure argued it would help fill an oncoming doctor shortage, encourage more physicians to practice in Washington, and increase access to medical services in rural regions of the state.
During Wednesday, April 5 Senate floor debate State Sen. Ann Rivers (R-18) said, “This bill allows physicians to obtain expedited licensure in the state of Washington if they are already licensed in another state that is part of the compact if they have no disciplinary action taken against them or their license in another state.”
Ending Doctor Shortage
“We are facing a time of severe shortage of our doctors and I feel that we need to move this along so we can assure that we have an ample supply of doctors,” Rivers added. “Additionally, most of the ‘whammy’ states participate in this and as you know, it is important to keep docs as they complete their residency here, right here, so they continue to live here and serve folks. We have a real problem in rural areas so whatever we can do to ease the process and keep them right here at home, it just benefits our state.”
Last month, supporters of HB 1337 testified in front of the Senate Health Care Committee the measure would increase physician access to underserved regions of the state, expand telemedicine opportunities, and encourage top tier doctors to move to and practice within Washington.
Meeting Growing Demand For Physicians
According to a 2016 update on projected physician supply and demand prepared for the Association of American Medical Colleges, there will be a national physician shortfall in eight years. The paper estimates there will be between 61,700 and 94,700 fewer primary and non-primary care physicians than needed in 2025.
State Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-3) is prime sponsor. Cosponsors include State Reps. Paul Harris (R-17), Eileen Cody (D-34), and Laurie Jinkins (D-27). On February 15, the House approved the bill in a 94-3 vote, with one excused. The bill’s companion, SB 5221, died in the Rules Committee in February.
Under HB 1337, Washington would adopt the language of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, joining 18 other states. Under the agreement, physicians moving from one member state to another would be offered the option for expedited licensing. According to the bill report, practitioners applying for the faster process must hold an unrestricted and full license to practice in a Compact state, have no disciplinary taken against them, not currently be under investigation, completed a graduate medical education program, and passed one of two high-level medical exams.
State Sen. Mike Padden (R-4) sponsored an amendment later adopted into the measure. On the Senate floor, he told colleagues his idea was to develop “something that would protect our state, protect our state’s sovereignty, protect our constitutional rights under our state constitution and under the United States constitution. The original language basically said the compact could promulgate laws and rules that our citizens would have to accept and so this is simply some protection.”
Under the amendment, the state Department of Health’s Medical Quality Assurance Commission would be required to adopt the rules of the compact before the state does. Also, any rules under the compact must not violate rights provided under the state or U.S. constitution.
Some Lawmakers Support Bill, Despite Reservations
However, State Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-49) rose in strong opposition to the amendment. “There are numerous concerns this amendment presents but I will point to the primary concern and that’s this: the purpose of the underlying bill is to allow for streamlining and greater efficiency in the licensing of physicians through participation in a multi-state compact and this amendment is counter to that intent as it adds unnecessary additional government rulemaking,” she argued.
Cleveland later testified in “reluctant support” of the bill as an important asset to the state. “I do believe the underlying bill is critically important to this state and to the citizens of our state being able to access healthcare in a timely and efficient way. The bill is an important step forward in addressing the shortage of physicians that we face and helping to more quickly and effectively license doctors to practice in our state,” she said.
The Senate approved HB 1337 in a 40-7 vote, with two excused. The next step is for the House to approve the changes made to amended bill before the measure is sent Governor Jay Inslee’s desk for approval.