Rural areas outside of cities face many challenges, including land use, job creation, and access to capital for the economy.

This August, the Indiana Rural Caucus composed of members of the Indiana General Assembly, will meet at the Indiana State Fair to discuss topics of interest to rural communities.  The caucus is a bipartisan group of legislators who act as an advocate for the concerns and interests of rural communities.

This summer’s meeting will focus on issues such as rural hospitals, broadband coverage, irrigation, water, and roads.  It’s good to remember that many Hoosiers don’t live in big cities and thus don’t have the same quality of access to the internet or the funds for new roads.

One of the most glaring concerns facing Hoosiers in rural areas is access to primary care physicians in their community. Indiana currently ranks 39th for its ratio of physicians to population. In a recent report by the Indiana Center for Health Workforce Studies and the Bowen Research Center at Indiana University School of Medicine, it was found that only 11 of 92 counties meet the accepted standard of 10 primary care doctors for every 10,000 people.

The report also found that more than one-third of primary care doctors in rural counties are within a decade of retirement. This rural issue is clearly compounded when you consider the upcoming shortage of rural doctors with the expansion of health care under both the federal health care law and the governor’s expansion of the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP 2.0).

In 2012, I authored legislation to establish a primary care physician loan forgiveness program that would have forgiven student loans up to $25,000 each year the physician practices in a rural area. Unfortunately, this proposal was not given a hearing so this important issue could be debated and a commonsense solution pursued.

It is my hope that the bipartisan work of the Indiana Rural Caucus this summer will present a workable solution to this growing concern. With the doctor shortages we are already experiencing in rural Indiana, and the increased demand for health care providers we will see statewide in the coming years, legislators in the General Assembly need to find a way to incentivize doctors to serve in rural communities.

As always, I would like to hear your thoughts and ideas on the issues that matter most to you. Please contact me at (800) 382-9467 or s47@iga.in.gov.

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