Gov. Brown signs bill allowing rural hospitals to hire doctors

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Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed into law a bill that would allow small, rural hospitals to employ doctors directly and bill for their services — a plan intended to help overcome physician shortages in remote communities.

With a few exceptions, state law currently prohibits hospitals from hiring doctors directly.

Under the new law, hospitals themselves can bill health plans, Medicaid and Medicare for services provided by doctors.

The bill, AB 2024, was authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg.

The new law applies to critical access hospitals, which have 25 beds or less and are located in rural areas where the nearest hospital is either 35 miles away or 15 miles from another hospital in mountainous terrain.

“Preserving the conventional mode of practice is short-sighted,” Wood said in a statement. “Other states have shown that the sky will not fall and hiring physicians who want to practice as an employee has been mutually beneficial, especially in rural areas where operating a private practice may not be financially feasible.”

In Sonoma County, only Healdsburg District Hospital, operated by the North Sonoma County Hospital District, would benefit from the new law.

Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital in Willits, Mendocino Coast District Hospital in Fort Bragg, St. Helena Hospital in Clearlake and Sutter Lakeside Hospital in Lakeport would also benefit.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

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