Cutting Red Tape: Streamlined Licensing Process for Arizona Physicians
Arizona faces critical shortages of health care workers needed to meet the needs of an ever growing and aging population. However, in rural Arizona, shortages are more pronounced and immediate. The University of Arizona Center for Rural Health (AzCRH) works with multiple stakeholders across the state to clearly identify the shortages and propose potential solutions to address them.
This past year, Governor Ducey and the Arizona Legislature put forth several health care initiatives to address shortages of health professionals, with a particular attention to shortages in rural communities. These efforts included policies to collect timely licensing data from health licensing boards to assess workforce capacity and anticipate future needs, allowing all services covered by insurance to be delivered via telehealth services with no limitations, and reforming direct primary care agreements where primary care doctors can contract directly with patients for health care services. In addition, this year’s budget included funding for growing the class size for medical students in our public medical schools with a priority focus on primary care, increasing the number of graduate medical education opportunities in both urban and rural settings, and appropriating additional dollars to the state loan repayment programs.
While the above-mentioned policies are important steps to addressing health care workforce shortages, the Arizona Universal Licensing Act legislation may also provide immediate relief. House Bill 2569 simplified the process to receive a reciprocal license in any licensed profession, including health care. Arizona is the first state in the nation to pass this legislation and it went into effect August 2019. It is designed to help licensed professionals in other states move to and practice in Arizona without facing the time constraints associated with obtaining an initial professional license. All state licensing boards are instructed to issue a license to work in Arizona provided that the individual is in good standing in the previous state, possesses the necessary state-required skills and experiences, and worked for at least one year prior in that state. As Governor Ducey said, “…you don’t lose your skills simply because you moved here.”
In late August, the Arizona Medical Board and the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners announced they are ready to start processing state licenses using the Universal Licensing Act. As of the end of September, the Arizona Medical Board received 27 applications and issued 3 licenses using this new statutorily created licensing path and the Osteopathic Board received 2 applications and issued 2 licenses. The Center for Rural Health will track the number of licenses each year issued under this new program and will provide pertinent data to policy makers and stakeholders as they continue to implement legislative and regulatory measures to address Arizona’s health workforce shortages.
Many providers are excited about this legislation going into effect. Nick Goodman, CEO of MomDoc the largest women’s health care group in Arizona, shared, “It is positive to see the implementation of the new occupational licensing law. This law will allow doctors to get to work caring for Arizonans more quickly than ever before.”
The Arizona Universal Licensing Act is not the only tool available to streamline the health care licensing process. In 2016, HB 2502, the Arizona Medical Compact legislation, went into effect adding Arizona to a growing list of states to use the medical compact structure to issue state licenses. As a member of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, Arizona may now access participating states licensing information from information previously submitted to the physician’s state of principal license (SPL). To date, 454 licenses have been issued by the Arizona Medical Board under this statute; 49 licenses in 2017, 199 in 2018 and 206 as of August 2019. The Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners has issued a total of 72 licenses using the compact; 10 in 2017, 32 in 2018 and 30 as of October 2019. AzCRH will monitor the use of both licensing paths to report numbers associated with each program, the universal licensing and the compact paths.
While no single health policy solves all health care workforce shortage problems, collectively, each action will help the state address the critical issue of preparing, attracting and retaining a qualified health care workforce for the citizens of Arizona.
» See related report from AzCRH on the Arizona Primary Care Physician Workforce
Author: Dr. Heather Carter is an Assistant Professor of Practice in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona and the Associate Director of the Arizona Center for Rural Health. She has served in the Arizona Legislature for the past 8 years, in the House of Representatives, where she chaired the House Health Committee for six years. Currently, she is the State Senator from LD 15 (North Phoenix, Scottsdale and Cave Creek) and is chair of Higher Education and Workforce Development committee, vice-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.