(Photo illustration credit: PEXELS)
Photo: PEXELS
Photo: PEXELS

Public comment sought on Georgia doctors who don’t meet obligations

The state board that regulates physicians is asking for public comment on a proposed rule that would protect the licenses of doctors who default on their student loans or fail to meet service obligations.

The change is already mandated by a new state law, Senate Bill 214, and the board is simply changing its rules to comply with it.

Nationwide, student loan debt is drowning Americans, including doctors. Advocates for measures such as SB 214 have made the case that suspending a doctor’s license to practice is counterproductive because it also takes away his or her ability to make money to pay the bills.

But SB 214, passed earlier this year, goes further, also easing up on those doctors who bail on service obligations. A service obligation is when, for example, a student accepts help to pay for medical school and in return agrees to spend a few years practicing in a rural area or in a certain job.

Georgia law used to specifically call for license suspensions in such cases. The new law inserted a “not” and now prohibits them.

A spokesman for the Medical Association of Georgia said other arms of the state could still go after the noncompliant graduates for unpaid debt, including damages.

The provisions were first introduced in the legislative session this spring by state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, in Senate Bill 92, and then inserted into SB 214. It passed both houses of the Legislature on the chaotic final day of this year’s session, with just a handful of “no” votes on each side.

Regarding student loan debt, a recent survey by the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce found that doctors do make a lot of money, but their medical school debt is enormous and sometimes more than the salary can handle. The majority of new doctors had an expected first-year salary of $200,00 or more, but they were graduating with more than $200,000 in student debt. One-third were graduating with more than $300,000 in debt.

The Georgia Composite Medical Board will hold a public hearing on the rule changes at 8 a.m. Nov. 7 at Emory University. The hearing is scheduled for the Emory Conference Center at 1615 Clifton Road NE in Atlanta. People who can’t attend can send their comments by email to lhughes@dch.ga.gov by Oct. 25.

All five proposed rule changes can be reviewed on the board’s website at this link.

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