Wednesday, February 20, 2013

House misses deadline on doctor licensing fees

By Meredith Colias

The state agency that licenses doctors says it needs budget relief to ensure that a new crop of doctors coming to the state to complete residency training will receive licenses by the time they start this summer.

Lawmakers failed to address a shortfall in a state budget fund for licensing doctors in time for a deadline today for medical students nationwide to decide where they would like to complete their residencies. Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association, said he was concerned the issue could deter prospective medical students from coming to Illinois. “We would hope these medical students still hope to choose Illinois,” he said.

Dr. William Werner, president of the Illinois State Medical Society, said it was unlikely that medical students would reject Illinois because of licensing issues. Students usually rank their residency choices on where they would get the best training for their specialties, rather than the state, he said. Some heads of teaching hospitals were concerned, but “I’ve not heard a lot of concerns” that programs will fail to attract good candidates, Werner said..

But there is worry that the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the state agency that approves doctor licenses and investigates medical malpractice complaints, does not have enough money and staff to ensure that licenses are approved for medical students before they are scheduled to start their residencies in July. Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said money was needed to restore staff the department recently cut from 26 to eight. The reduction in staff has prolonged the processing time for a medical license application from about 15 business days to close to six months.

Werner said excessive application delays need to be resolved by April and called the matter “unacceptable”. “You can’t expect a young person to delay their training that long. This has to be solved by the spring, so residents can get their licenses,” he said.

An Illinois House committee today approved Senate Bill 622, which would transfer $6.6 million from the Local Government Tax Fund to the fund that pays for doctor licensing and increase three-year medical licensing fees from $300 to $750. The money from the local tax fund would be paid back by 2015. Chicago Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie told the committee that approving the measure “would be an indication to medical students across the country that Illinois is going to solve the problem.”

Manuel Flores, the acting secretary of the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said the long-term viability of the fund should be examined with the fee structure. “[Administrative] costs are going to continue to rise,” he said.

 “The one thing Illinois isn’t last place in is our hospitals,” said Rep. Michael Tryon, a Crystal Lake Republican.

James Tierney of the Illinois State Medical Society said a fee increase is necessary but not to the $750 figure that Currie proposed. The society has said it would agree to increasing the fee to $500 every three years. He said doctors should not have to pay for a problem created when money from the fund was swept and spent in other areas of the budget. The measure “really amounts to nothing more than a tax on physicians,” he said.

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