Proposed OK Bill Intends To Help Rural Doctor Shortage With Tax Breaks

Thursday, March 30th 2017, 11:05 pm
By: News On 6

A bill making its way through the Oklahoma Legislature could help fight the state's health care shortage, especially in rural areas.

If passed, House Bill 2301 would give rural doctors an income tax break of $25,000 a year. It's an incentive that Oklahoma desperately needs.

James Brigance is a third-year medical student at OU-Tulsa, and for him, the practice is personal.

"I've always wanted to make it back there, and something about going back to the community and helping people that I've known," he said.

Brigance is from the small, southwest Oklahoma town of Poteau. After he's finished with his medical training he wants to go home and serve his hometown.

"When I go back there, people are like, 'You need to hurry and get through, my back's hurting, you got to come back and help me, I'm going to be your first patient,'" he said.

For a long time, Oklahoma has struggled with a shortage of primary care doctors, especially in small towns.

Medical programs like the Family Practice Rural Residency Program at OU-Tulsa are trying to bridge that gap.

Dr. F Daniel Duffy said, "It is the way, the only way, to really get people committed to rural medicine."

Duffy is the chair of medical leadership at OU-Tulsa. He said because of the shortage people in small-town Oklahoma are forced to travel farther to see a doctor.

“People have to travel a long distance to get medical care,” he said. “This is particularly a problem when people develop chronic disease and need frequent follow-up visits or frequent treatments or specialized care."

The proposed income tax break would be a welcome incentive, he said, to attract more doctors like Brigance.

“Those people in my community are kind of on my mind as I'm going through training," Brigance said.

The bill passed the House with an overwhelming majority and will now make its way through the Senate committees.