The nation's largest publicly operated health plan has begun its $31 million initiative to recruit primary care physicians for safety net providers serving Los Angeles County.
L.A. Care Health Plan has given 29 community health clinics in Los Angeles County $125,000 each to recruit and retain primary care physicians, in the first phase of a $31 million drive to bolster the region's safety net.
L.A. Care CEO John Baackes says the publicly operated health plan's Elevating the Safety Net program, which started in mid-2018, should ultimately bring about 400 primary care physicians into the county over the next five years, through recruiting and compensation incentives, scholarships, and medical school debt relief.
"Part of our mission at L.A. Care is to support the safety net, and with estimates that California will face a shortage of nearly 9,000 primary care physicians by 2030, we were compelled to act," Baackes says.
Baackes calls L.A. Care's recruiting initiative "a good start" in a daunting challenge.
"We're making a dent, but to my knowledge, we're making the biggest dent that anyone is making," he says.
"It's well known that Kaiser (Permanente) pays more, and they suck up a lot of the new talent. The academic medical centers pay more too, and they get some of the talent," he says. "So this is trying to provide the safety nets with a level playing field for the recruitment of these primary care doctors."
The clinics can use their $125,000 award to either pay for a physician recruiter, or use it in an incentive package for prospective hires. "However they see fit," Baackes says.
The clinics must hire a physician from outside of L.A. County and bring them into the L.A. Care Medi-Cal network no later than June 30. to receive the money.
Once hired, the new physicians will be eligible for loan repayments of up to $5,000 per month for up to 36 months, topping out at $185,000, as long as they work within the safety net.
"Almost all of the awardees are federally qualified health centers, meaning that they have been in the safety net for 30 or 40 years, and they take care of about 300,000 of our lives," Baackes says.
"They're run by local community boards, and they provide generally a health center, a facility where the doctors work, and many of those facilities have ancillary services in there. When you go and visit, you can get a lot of services done in one place," he says.
The third part of the initiative is a scholarship program that awards eight full medical school each year. Four of the scholarships are for students attending the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and four are for those attending the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.
The first scholarships were awarded last July, and eight more will be awarded later this year.
L.A. Care Health Plan has more than 2.2 million members in Los Angeles County, making it the largest publicly-operated health plan in the country.
“We're making a dent, but to my knowledge, we're making the biggest dent that anyone is making.”
John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan
John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.
29 community health centers in L.A. County will each get $125,000 to recruit and incentivize primary care physicians.
The awards are part of a $31 million program by L.A. Care Health Plan to bolster the county's provider safety net.
L.A. Care is also offering up to $185,000 in tuition debt relief, and funding full scholarships for med students who agree to work in underserved areas.