Medical community gears up for expansion

The Associated Press /

SALEM — With 400,000 uninsured Oregonians expected to get health insurance in the coming years, the state and medical community are scrambling to make sure there are doctors, nurses and other health care providers available to treat them.

Many of Oregon’s rural and minority communities already are short of the recommended doctor-patient ratios — a problem that will only get worse when most Americans are required to have health coverage beginning Jan. 1.

With an eye on the coming tide of newly insured residents, state lawmakers this year approved scholarships and loan repayment programs designed to encourage medical school graduates to practice in underserved areas instead of the flashier urban centers. State officials also hope Oregon’s effort to improve coordination and preventive care will make it easier for the existing providers to handle more patients.

But there will still be growing pains.

“It’s going to be difficult to go from where we are to where we want to be overnight,” said Bruce Goldberg, director of the Oregon Health Authority, the state agency that administers Medicaid.

“We’ll be ready,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll be as ready as we want to be, but it’s a pretty great opportunity to change all these life circumstances for everybody and make them healthy.”